I AM HEATH LEDGER documents the life of Academy Award winning Australian actor Heath Ledger. Born in Perth in 1979, Ledger went on to great fame and success despite a relatively brief career which was cut short after his accidental death from an overdose of prescription drugs. He was 28.
The bare bones of Ledger’s story are well known in Australia. Our celebrities’ lives are scrutinised in minute detail and we like nothing better than an Aussie who has international success. I AM HEATH LEDGER is largely an examination of the young actor’s successful journey learning the craft he was passionate about and worked hard to perfect.
Directors Adrian Buitenhuis and Derik Murray have assembled Ledger’s parents and sisters, his circle of close friends from his hometown and his wider circle from his Los Angeles days. Those close to him speak of his creativity, his relentless curiosity and his joy of life.
His screen charisma is shown in clips from his key movies like 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU, THE PATRIOT, A KNIGHT’S TALE, MONSTERS BALL, NED KELLY, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and THE DARK KNIGHT. However, it’s the extensive archive of his self-shot video that sketches in the details of the man behind the roles. He used the camera as a tool to study his expressions and gestures; it helped him work out ideas for the parts he played. He also made sketches and shorts and had a fascination with how films were put together and stories were told. He studied the directors he worked with and learnt much from Ang Lee and Christopher Nolan. This experimentation became more formal when he made music videos for the likes of Ben Harper and he was planning to direct his first feature at the time of his death.
The documentary is not for Ledger completists. The timeline starts at his departure from Perth, skates through his short time in Sydney, shooting the series ROAR in Queensland and then straight on to Los Angeles. It thereby misses the opportunity to show moments from the Australian shows SWEAT or HOME AND AWAY. To be fair, it isn’t always possible or economical to secure rights to moments from certain shows, but there is an obvious fascination in seeing an actor’s earliest performances.
Ledger’s time in Los Angeles is covered. He kept an open house that became a crash pad for actors like Ben Mendelsohn and Joel Egerton. Mendelsohn in particular, provides an interesting insight into a productive phase in Ledger’s career. According to the film, his entire career was always on the way up. Actress Naomi Watts talks about the incredible trajectory of his life in such a very short time.
As in the documentary AMY (2015) which also shares a heavy use of home video images, I AM HEATH LEDGER tries to capture the elusive quality of a major talent that was cut short. Unlike Asif Kapadia’s examination of singer Amy Winehouse, I AM HEATH LEDGER completely eschews any mention of a darker side to its subject. Which is not to say the film is a falsification of his life story, but it is mostly upbeat. His death is treated sombrely and impressionistically through the reactions of his family and loved ones and the strong use of music. It is more accurate to call this a celebration of a life, rather than the complete picture of Ledger.
I AM HEATH LEDGER is a well-made feature film that reveals unseen footage and some interesting facts about the actor. It serves as a moving tribute to a talented spirit whom many still miss. Duration 90 minutes. (7/10)
I AM HEATH LEDGER is currently in limited release around the country until May 17th.