Watchmen (2009): Jackie Earle Haley’s Bravura Performance

Set in 1985, “Watchmen” is the big-screen adaptation of the most celebrated graphic novel of all time, brought to life by visionary director Zack Snyder of “300” fame.


Cast as Rorschach, Jackie Earle Haley was struck by the opportunity to portray “the humanity behind the mask,” adding, “It explores what the world might be like if people really did dress up in costumes and went into the vigilante business. What are their weaknesses, their morality, the beliefs driving their behavior”


The actor and his colleagues quickly found that Snyder’s enthusiasm was infectious. “I’ve never seen someone more passionate about a project in my life,” says Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays The Comedian. “How passionate he is about this novel and making this movie true to it was a sight to behold and it invigorated everybody.”


Chosen by Internet

Even before Snyder selected the cast, fans were trying to select it for him. “About three years ago,” recalls Haley, “people on the Internet were suggesting me for the role of Rorschach. At the time I didn’t know the novel. I looked it up and was fascinated by it. So when I heard the film was going ahead, I was very pumped and fought like hell to win the part.”


The only Mask to openly defy the Keene Act, which outlawed costumed heroes, Rorschach remains vigilant, continuing to haunt the gutters of New York, hunting society’s “vermin.”  His mask the last thing they see before he metes out his judgment. Rorschach’s moral compass has only two directions: right and wrong.


Black and White World


We live in a complex world of shades of gray, but for Rorschach, the world is black and white,” says Haley. “For him, complexity makes no sense. Complexity simply justifies the victimization of himself and everybody who is made to suffer from someone else’s special interest.”


Rorschach’s psychology and sense of honor are reflected in the mask he wears, with shifting, mirror image patterns of black and white, like the inkblots of a Rorschach test. “Rorschach has this noirish quality about him,” says Snyder. “He is the detective of the story, but at the same time, he is almost psychopathic in his uncompromising pursuit of justice. He’s a very fascinating character. He comes from a broken family and grew up on the mean streets, and then gradually, through events both in and out of the mask, he became Rorschach.”


The mystery unfolds following Rorschach’s discovery that Edward Blake, also known as The Comedian, has been murdered, thrown from his 30th-floor apartment window. A disenchanted killing machine that has spent his years doing unsavory jobs for the government in both war and peacetime, The Comedian sees the world as a dark place where small acts of brutality or heroism alike make little to no difference.


Dark Side of America


“The Comedian is as American as can be, but he is also the dark side of what America has the potential to be,” remarks the director. “He rides that edge; he’s always doing some dark job for the government, but he’s doing it as a superhero would do it.” To Rorschach, he’s nothing short of a super-patriot, an American hero who died in service to his country.


Tonight, a Comedian died in New York, Rorschach writes in his journal. Somebody knows why. Rorschach believes someone is picking off costumed heroes, of which The Comedian is only the first. He sets out to warn the members of the interconnected group that in past years fought by his side–six souls tied together by fate and the desire to make their own brand of justice. His first visit is to Dan Dreiberg, who, as Nite Owl II, was his partner in the glory days of the Masks.


“Dan was probably the closest friend that Rorschach has ever had on the planet,” says Haley. “The police don’t like Rorschach. The citizens don’t like him. None of the other Masks like him. When he stumbles upon this murder, he is going to pursue it all the way to the end. But I also think there’s a little piece of him that sees the murder as a reason the guys should get back together.”

See Review of Watchmen