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By Mark Bell | July 21, 2014

Actor Kingsley Bell (Stiaan Smith), known more for his roles in romantic comedies, has recently been cast as comic book villain The Jester in the Shadow Guardian film franchise. Locking himself away in a hotel room for weeks, Bell does his best to ignore the criticisms of the casting, and other distractions, as he prepares for the role, trying to find his way into the mind of the iconic character.

Sound familiar? That’s because Tyron Janse van Vuuren’s short film, Preparation, is inspired by Heath Ledger’s preparation to play the Joker in The Dark Knight in much the same way that Gus Van Sant’s Last Days was inspired by the last days of Kurt Cobain’s life. Which is to say, there are similarities that provoke familiarity, but it’s all fiction within a real-feeling framework.

It’s compelling to watch the filmmaker, and lead actor, express their ideas of what might have happened to get Heath Ledger from charming, handsome romantic lead all the way over to his memorable performance as the unhinged Joker. Regardless of whether those ideas are accurate, you still get to see Stiaan Smith go on that journey to find himself at the same end point, and he is quite convincing.

Since the film is following this transformative psychological journey of one man in a hotel room, the pace can be quite measured. It works, but it does allow the film to breathe perhaps too much. If you’ve read my reviews of short films in the past, you’ve no doubt heard me talk about running times making a massive impact on what happens with a film. In this case, the film runs probably five minutes too long for its own good. Creeping up on a half hour in length limits how often the film could get programmed at festivals, if that was a goal of the filmmakers. It’d honestly be better off if it could come under twenty minutes, but I think that might be too much cutting for the film’s balance to take.

Overall, however, the criticisms of the length of the film are more along the lines of a practical concern. I do think the film comes together as is. Whether this is entirely accurate to Heath Ledger’s preparation isn’t that important; even though you know precisely the characterization that Bell is heading towards, it remains interesting to watch him get there.

This film was submitted for review through our Submission for Review system. If you have a film you’d like us to see, and we aren’t already looking into it on our own, you too can utilize this service.

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