On January 22nd, 2008, acclaimed actor Heath Ledger died at just 28 years of age. 28 years he lived at double-speed, rising to Hollywood fame, pushing himself artistically and starting a family along the way. This is his story.
I Am Heath Ledger paints a picture of the late actor’s thirst for life and of his love for art, in its many forms. The initial focus is on the former, in a whirlwind, all too kinetic opening half hour. We’re hurtled through the early stages of his career, his treks across Australia and move to America at a breakneck pace, scattered footage and a multitude of interviews with his loved ones not allowing us to focus too deeply on discovering a great deal about his early career. A five minute stretch of Ledger’s self-shot dizzying handheld footage, in particular, feels a touch overindulgent. We’re told (and see) that Ledger filmed himself near-constantly, and yet the footage that we’re offered falls more into the abstract spectrum, rather than revealing anything particularly personal, other than a passion to better himself at his craft.
It’s beyond this, when the film stops hurtling forward at a rate of knots and finds time to reflect upon Ledger’s artistry, when we dig into his craft and mindset, particularly around the time of A Knight’s Tale, Monster’s Ball, and then later Brokeback Mountain that it transforms into something more interesting, and more intimate. It’s here, through discussions with those who worked with him and video of him learning his process that we see his creative talent come to fruition. The documentary’s pièce de résistance, as well as that of the actor’s filmography, comes with his turn as The Joker in The Dark Knight. It’s the film which won him his posthumous Oscar and for the chance to dig into the creation of his famous version of the character alone it’s worth watching.
And still, I can’t help but feel that there’s so much more that could have been explored. We don’t hear from Christopher Nolan, who directed him to his finest performance. Nor from his opposite number in The Dark Knight, Christian Bale. Terry Gilliam, director of his final movie The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus rounds out some of the more obvious of his missing artistic partners whose voices would surely have lent colour to his tale. It’s an absence from Ledger’s personal life, in his former partner and mother of his child Michelle Williams that feels most notable. So intrinsically linked was art to his personal life that it seems difficult to separate the two, but there’s certainly more away from the cameras that could have been dug in to.
Ultimately, your enjoyment of I Am Heath Ledger will likely come down to how in depth of a delve into his life you’re looking for. It might not be the most detailed of biographies, but as a celebration of Ledger’s life, it’s a relative success.
Rating (out of 5):
I Am Heath Ledger is released on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital on 22nd January 2018.