Wednesday, January 23, 2008
The untimely and tragic death of Heath Ledger has hit me quite hard. Pretty much every film fan I know, myself included, had the feeling that Ledger would eventually prove himself as one of the greats. In a career that included just around twenty films, and most of them unfortunately not very good, Ledger consistently stood out. There was something real about him…something strong, honorable and genuine. Like, River Phoenix, another actor who was taken from us far too young who routinely never got the quality of pictures he deserved, Heath Ledger will be remembered for always bringing something special and noble to the films he graced.
Ledger’s most masterful and resonate creation is absolutely Ennis in Ang Lee’s powerful BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. I was so moved by Ledger in this film (I admit that I have never cried more in a picture) that I haven’t been able to revisit it since seeing it in a theater when it first came out. His work as Ennis was truly original, complex, and quite unlike anything American cinema had seen in a very long time. Ennis was such an internal man and Ledger’s near grunting strife filled characterization was heartbreaking and magical stuff. I came out of the film convinced that Ledger would become one of our great actors and I still think it is one of the bravest and most powerful performances of this or any other decade.
There are other films worth noting, though none as great as BROKEBACK. Ledger gave the best performance in Marc Forster's MONSTERS BALL and was really fine opposite Mel Gibson in THE PATRIOT. He was also rather spectacular in the otherwise disappointing PAYBACK follow up film, THE ORDER, for director Brian Helgeland. Films like CASANOVA, THE LORDS OF DOGTOWN, BROTHERS GRIM, THE PATRIOT, NED KELLY, I’M NOT THERE, CANDY and the upcoming new BATMAN film (where his Joker looks positively terrifying) will perhaps all be viewed a little differently now with Ledger's passing. Each, regardless of their individual merits, can be looked upon as pieces of a remarkably layered and complex puzzle that will tragically remain incomplete.
My path almost passed with Heath Ledger once as he toured Elvis Presley's Graceland with Naomi Watts just hours before one of my visits. He was with Watts as she was filming 21 GRAMS in Memphis and I have always viewed the missed meeting as a simple regret...it seems like something much more now.
My thoughts are with Ledger's friends, fans and family...espcially Michelle Williams and their daughter Matilda. Heath Ledger came into the world on an Australian spring morning in 1979...he left it during a cold Manhattan winter afternoon in 2008. He was just 28 years old. To quote Neil Young's song about another lost great..."He sleeps with angels too soon."