I AM HEATH LEDGER gets 7/10 Squaring the ledger

Directed by Adrian Buitenhuis, Derik Murray
Starring Heath Ledger, Naomi Watts, Ben Mendelsohn

In 2008 Heath Ledger passed away from an accidental prescription drug overdose. At just 28 years of age, the Perth born star had already begun to create a powerhouse career, with one Academy Award nomination already under his belt, and having just completed an iconic performance which would posthumously win him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar the following year. Almost a decade after his tragic death a new documentary, I Am Heath Ledger grants us an inside look into his life and work.

From his LA beginnings in Roar to his Oscar winning role in The Dark Knight, I Am Heath Ledger gives us a retrospective of the young star’s career in films. Through interviews with those that knew him, audio of Ledger, film clips, and home movies we are given insight into his career and personality.

This is not a “warts and all” exposé of the icon, but rather a respectful and loving look by friends, family, and colleagues. If there is a complaint, perhaps it is too much so, and doesn’t examine the “demons” they describe Ledger as having. Frustratingly it fails to expand on some of these incidents mentioned, not really laying all the details bare to satisfy our natural (if somewhat ghoulishly voyeuristic) curiosity.

Yet it is hard to fault this. There is no doubt that all of the interviews are proceeding from a genuine place – this is the Heath that they knew and remember.

In part that is the point of this film, to redress the narrative that arose after the young actor’s death. The legend that he was obsessed with a definitive performance in the dark role of The Joker, and was broken by it. It’s a tragically romantic story, an easy sell, and also one that I Am Heath Ledger insists is not the case.

What this documentary does do, is provide a solid overview of the actor’s career, and give you some insight into his process. Ledger’s obsessive use of film, and the careful monitoring of his performance, posture and body language to guide creation of character. In fact, it is a tool he was so dedicated to he argued with acclaimed director Ang Lee to be allowed to see his performances in the monitor. An argument it appears that The Brokeback Mountain director lost, and admits he is grateful about. Hence the audience can witness the formation of a number of roles through Ledger’s own collected footage, as well as see some of his experience of the other side of the camera and wonder what could have happened if he had transitioned to directing.

It also gives you an insight into the community that formed around the young actor. From his high school friends that became his entourage, to the group of Aussie actors that crashed at his LA home while looking for their big break, to the collection of musicians and directors that worked with him – all give their candid (albeit glowing) recollection of the man.

That lack of nuance and shade means that I Am Heath Ledger can’t be considered the definitive documentary on the actor, but it is certainly an interesting and comprehensive one. At only an hour and a half it hits the ground running and rarely flags, covering the subject with the same energy and speed that Ledger apparently lived his life at. A must see for fans of the actor, but also an interesting view for the casual cinephile.

DAVID O’CONNELL

 

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