Heath Ledger doc gives poignant look at ac­tor

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - NEWSDAY

THE DOC­U­MEN­TARY: “I Am Heath Ledger”

WHEN, WHERE: Avail­able on dig­i­tal and DVD May 23.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: It seemed the world was just get­ting to know Heath Ledger, an Aus­tralian ac­tor with rock-star charisma, when he died in Jan­uary 2008. He was only 28 years old, but al­ready he had rock­eted through sev­eral stages of his ca­reer: The dreamy lead­ing man in “10 Things I Hate About You,” the straight star who played gay in “Broke­back Moun­tain” and, most fa­mously, the psy­chotic Joker in Christo­pher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.” That breath­tak­ing per­for­mance seemed to an­nounce the ar­rival of a new Brando, Pa­cino or Daniel Day-Lewis.

In­stead, Ledger be­came the new James Dean. While film­ing Terry Gil­liam’s “The Imag­i­nar­ium of Doc­tor Par­nas­sus,” Ledger died of an ac­ci­den­tal over­dose of pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tions. “I Am Heath Ledger,” which pre­mièred at last month’s Tribeca Film Fes­ti­val, makes the case that the young ac­tor was only be­gin­ning to tap into his full po­ten­tial.

MY SAY: Any time a fast-ris­ing tal­ent dies young, his story can be­come ro­man­ti­cized and mythol­o­gized. “I Am Heath Ledger” falls into that trap at times, paint­ing its sub­ject as a larger-than-life fig­ure who burned too bright for our world. Nev­er­the­less, “I Am Heath Ledger,” di­rected by Derik Mur­ray, of­fers sev­eral in­ter­est­ing an­gles on Ledger as an artist and as a per­son.

The first sur­prise is that Ledger car­ried a cam­era — ei­ther still or video — at nearly all times, and much of his per­sonal footage pro­vides the ba­sis for this film. Some of the seg­ments are fas­ci­nat­ing. We see a snip­pet of Ledger prac­tic­ing the twitch that would be­come the Joker’s smile, along with an ex­tended se­quence of the ac­tor rac­ing through a ho­tel on a se­cret “mis­sion.” (He never breaks char­ac­ter, even around baf­fled bell­hops.) The first is an ex­am­ple of craft, the sec­ond an ex­er­cise in com­mit­ment — two hall­marks of Ledger’s finest per­for­mances.

We also get a sense of life within Ledger’s or­bit, and it looks like fun. Naomi Watts and Ben Men­del­sohn (“Rogue One”) de­scribe Ledger’s Los An­ge­les home as a crash-pad for Aussie ac­tors of all stripes, be they suc­cess­ful or strug­glingFor the mu­si­cian Ben Harper, a close friend, Ledger’s gen­eros­ity came in the form of a grand piano de­liv­ered to his home.

There are two no­table ab­sences. One is Ledger’s for­mer part­ner and mother to his child, Michelle Wil­liams (though she has given this film her bless­ing). The other is Nolan, who di­rected Ledger in a per­for­mance that earned a rare post­hu­mous Os­car.

Still, fam­ily mem­bers and friends pro­vide a vivid pic­ture of Ledger as a cre­ative whirl­wind whose next ca­reer move was to di­rect. (Ledger planned to adapt Wal­ter Te­vis’ cult novel “The Queen’s Gam­bit” into a film.) “The truth is, he was happy and liv­ing life,” says Ledger’s agent, Steve Alexan­der, of the ac­tor’s fi­nal months.

“He wasn’t want­ing to go any­where but for­ward.”


Late ac­tor Heath Ledger car­ried a cam­era al­most all the time. Much of this footage forms the ba­sis for the doc­u­men­tary.

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