A documentary by Adrian Buitenhuis and Derik Murray. Rated PG
“We’re not supposed to be making this movie,” says Ben Harper at the very top of I Am Heath Ledger. “The Earth is off its axis. It’s fucked up.” Later in the film, Harper sheds a tear for his old friend, who died in 2008 at the age of 28—which really is fucked up.
But the implication raised by more than a few of the people interviewed in this loving tribute is that Ledger burned a little too brightly to survive much longer than that. “He was 50 in awake years,” as one old friend puts it, and everybody here—from lifelong pals, to family, to his agent, to admiring peers like Naomi Watts, Ben Mendelsohn, and Djimon Hounsou—remembers the late night phonecalls, early morning drop-ins, and limitless creative energy of a man who seemingly (no, actually) never slept.
In this light, Ledger’s remarkable accomplishments make sense. He scored his first leading Hollywood role within 18 months of ditching Perth, apparently on little more than a whim and a ton of preternatural confidence. His boundless hunger for life and insatiable need for expression are thrillingly represented by home movie clips, snatches of behind-the-scenes life, and Ledger’s own photography and artwork—which he produced obsessively, as per everything else in his life. This is a treasure trove to fans, in other words, and something of a revelation to casual observers.
It also avoids too much inquiry into the circumstances of his fatal prescription drugs overdose or whatever “demons” Ledger might have been battling, save to take note—rather fascinatingly, as it happens—of the emotional issues that did emerge once the brash young Aussie found himself opposite Mel Gibson in The Patriot or breaking into the A-list with A Knight’s Tale. It seems that Ledger wanted fame up until he really got it, as his friend and creative partner Matt Amato observes. Ledger’s answer to these challenges was to become better at his craft. (His Lords of Dogtown costar Emile Hirsch tells a particularly poignant story about razzing Ledger over his next role, in Brokeback Mountain.)
As we all know, he would eventually out-Joker Jack Nicholson and score a posthumous Oscar for The Dark Knight. That his gifts were beyond rare is inarguable by this point. I Am Heath Ledger makes the same case for his soul.
I Am Heath Ledger screens at the Cineplex Park Theatre on Thursday (May 4), Saturday (May 6), Sunday (May 7), and next Thursday (May 11)