I Am Heath Ledger – movie review

On 22 January 2008 one of Australia’s brightest shining lights in the entertainment business was snuffed out far too prematurely. A subsequent Oscar winner, the actor, director, musician, photographer, artist and chess guru Heath Ledger passed away at the age of 28. Medical reports indicated his death was accidental, the result of the abuse of prescribed medications. He left behind an adored young daughter, a loving family, including his father, mother and sisters, and a dedicated group of loyal friends.

This biography by Adrian Buitenhuis and Derik Murray gives us a look into what drove Ledger and his impact on those that knew him best, including former flames, but not his ex-wife, fellow actress Michelle Williams. We learn most not from Ledger’s parents or siblings, rather from singer songwriter Ben Harper, actors Ben Mendelsohn and Naomi Watts, and from his lifelong mates.

The doco reveals just how kind and generous Ledger was, keeping an open, style home in the US, to which fellow Aussies were always welcomed. It also shows how driven he was to succeed and the efforts to which he went to make each role special.

We chronologically walk through Ledger’s life around the films that made him famous, including 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), A Knight’s Tale (2001), Brokeback Mountain (2005), The Dark Knight (2008) and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009).

Among those interviewed are his Brokeback Mountain director Ang Lee, his vocal coach and his agent.  While mentioned, little attention is given to his break-up with Williams (I would have liked to have had far greater insights into that). We hear from Ledger himself and see raw vision of him in his personal life, as well as the music videos he carefully crafted and shot. Fame didn’t always sit comfortably with him and yet there were times he embraced it.

The longer the film went the more I was moved by the man and his achievements. Clearly, he was a prodigious talent, cut down in the prime of his life. But he also had his demons, his vulnerabilities and although these were pointed out – notably his lack of ability to sleep – more attention could have been paid to them. 

In the end, like Whiteley, the biopic about one of Australia’s most celebrated painters – also released this week – I Am Heath Ledger is a reverential portrait of a man who appeared to live every moment to the fullest. It appeared that he only knew how to function in one gear – and that is turned up to the max. His life, his legacy and his downfall were all tied up in that. Rated M, I Am Heath Ledger scores a 7 out of 10.

Director: Derik Murray, Adrian Buitenhuis
Release Date: 11 May 2017
Rating: M

Alex First

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