Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Heath Ledger; 1979 - 2008

It came as a definite shock. A blow. Out of the blue and when all the dust settles it'll go down as one of the more senseless losses that the Australian motion picture industry has seen in a very long time.

Cast off the controversy that surrounded Ledger and you'll find an actor that hadn't even gotten near his full potential. I first saw Ledger in the film Two Hands, where he more than held his own against Bryan Brown, an actor at the height of his powers. Ledger not only carried the movie but stole entire scenes from others such as Susie Porter and the then also rising star, Rose Byrne, and showed a poise and maturity beyond his years. That this movie isn't better known on a global scale is simply criminal. If you get a chance to see it then settle in and get ready for the ride of your cinematic life. It's a shame that most people won't get the chance to see it on the large screen, where it truly belongs.

Ledger then went Hollywood where he made a few largely forgettable teen flicks, standard fare for a good looking young man. Again the thing that set films like 10 Things I Hate About You and A Knights Tale was the presence of Ledger. The man was magnetic, but sublime at the same time.

One of the best testaments to his acting came in the movie The Patriot. Here Ledger was cast as the song of Mel Gibson who, despite the sheer amount of crap he's made, can be a more than serious actor and a force to be reckoned with. If you watch the movie closely you can almost see Gibson backing off in scenes with ledger, as if recognising the power of the actor he was being paired with. The movie, intended as a star vehicle for Gibson, ended up being a showcase for Ledger. Reuniting with Two Hands director Gregor Jordan, Ledger's turn in the title role of the film Ned Kelly was another tour de force which again showed how, in an ensemble cast including two time Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush and the then popular Orlando Bloom, Ledger could take a movie from anyone and shine.

Ledger's legacy will be all of those movies, and more. The less said about Monsters Ball the better, but Ledger proved that it was better to be good in a bad movie than to be bad in a good one. Coming off that was the lauded Brokeback Mountain, a film that Ledger should have won his debut Oscar for (beaten out by a sub-par performance by Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote), as should co-star Jake Gyllenhaal (also beaten by a sub-par performance). Brokeback Mountain will be the film that you'll see over and over, and it will be, and rightly so, the movie that remains in the public consciousness as the film where Heath Ledger ceased being the pretty boy teen pin-up and began to show his true calling and potential. That we have now lost him is more the pity.

As much as we may lament the loss of Ledger, spare a thought or five for those who remain. There's now a little girl who'll grow up never knowing her father, other than those images that he left on the screen. Feel for Heath Ledger, but also feel for his family.

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