Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The career of Heath Ledger

...or how I saw it...

Still sitting here in shock over the death of Heath Ledger which now appears to be nothing sinister and just a tragic accident. Hopefully his death will highlight the dangers of prescription drug misuse, which affects millions of people world wide.

It got me to thinking about Ledger, who was alive just hours ago, and his career in film.

One of the first Aussie movies I really loved was Two Hands (1999). It's the story of Jimmy, a guy who's mixed up with the wrong crowd in a big city. It's a film about finding answers and perspective to a life you've always known. It's about escape and being responsible for your actions. It's a film that can only be described as beautiful agony. Heath Ledger was perfect for the title character and that film, paired with 10 Things I Hate About You (also 1999) gave the already known in Australia actor a big boost to his career. These two films opened doors. Sure 10 Things was a teen comedy based very loosely on Shakespeare's 'Taming of the Shrew" which may seem blasphemy to some, but it was a great indication of Ledger's ability to pick roles with at least some substance.

Many of you will just shake your heads when you read what I'm about to write, but one of my favourite films in general and one of Ledger's is A Knight's Tale, which came out the same year as he starred opposite the then still respected Mel Gibson in The Patriot. Critics absolutely slammed the former for being a lame mix of a period drama and a pop culture filled teen pleaser. I praised the film for its originality and good character development. I enjoyed the tongue in cheek references to Nike etc and the quality of the actors in the film. The look was also very good, and the sets and stunts were equally pleasing. I was always annoyed that more people didn't like this film. I mean, that horrible old meets new comedy with Martin Lawrence, Black Knight, now that was really bad. I just enjoyed A Knight's Tale because it was a good overall product, enjoyable to watch and with enough to differentiate it from the pack without ruining the underlying story. In fact, I had this on VHS and wore the tape out! (Ok I did that a lot, but still)

Then Heath Ledger entered what I like to call his 'dark period' where he has played in above average yet difficult to watch films like Four Feathers, Monster's Ball, Ned Kelly, Lords of Dogtown and finally the phenomenal Brokeback Mountain. Easily my favourite of the lot, Brokeback not only opened people's eyes to a different version of the gay man than that which is always presented in the media, but it also created change in cinema altogether. Moviegoers went to see the film out of curiosity and most, even the staunch heterosexual men, applauded it. The beautiful film also highlighted Ledger's ability to play a character so convincingly, that with his heart and soul he becomes that person and is able to tell their story with an honesty that is agonizingly magnificent. You'd be hard pressed to find a better performance in the history of film and the fact he didn't get an Oscar win for it was a tragedy in itself.

Breaking it up his dark period with Casanova (a light, fun take on the legendary lover), Ledger then returned to it with the painful Australian story Candy, which not only won him accolades and respect from Australians and the world, but which helped to launch his costar Abbie Cornish into Hollywood. The darkness continued with the biopic I'm Not There about Bob Dylan and ends with his final completed role, the highly anticipated Dark Knight (a sequel to 2005's Batman Begins).

His final unfinished role in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was to be a fantastic, also dark, morality tale. I would have loved to see this film, but I hope they never finish it now or try to replace him.

While Heath Ledger didn't live that long, and millions of people die every day around the world under even more tragic circumstances, his body of work cannot be ignored by people such as myself whose world centers around the film industry. Any artist will respect at least some of his choices, and no one can ignore the fact that he was a highly talented individual. I'm disgusted that the media broadcast the removal of his body, and am ashamed at times to be a part of such a greedy set of people. I am looking forward to the many specials and television reports that outline his life rather than the disrespectful focus on his demise.

Wherever he is now, and I'm quoting him here, he'll live on through his movies. Thank you Mr. Ledger for providing me with hours of entertainment and for enriching my life thus. You will, always, be missed.


Jonathan said...

Really nice tribute, Jen. I'm going to miss him so much.

Mike said...

To a Fantastic and talented man, Who's grace and talent adorned my screen many times. I will miss his persona and his quality of work! To Him I cheer and go silent!!!!