I Am Heath Ledger
Heath Ledger, Kim Ledger, Ben Mendelsohn, Ben Harper, N’fa Jones, Ang Lee
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An unabashedly affectionate portrait of Ledger the artist and Ledger the man.
Nine years after his untimely death, the documentary I Am Heath Ledger looks at the life and career of the late Australian actor. Directors Derik Murray and Adrian Buitenhuis have managed to craft a film that is both encompassing and intimate – the latter quality largely down to the inclusion of a huge swathe of home video footage shot by Ledger himself.
Indeed, the first shot of the film is an extremely close up of the young Heath, impishly inviting us to come on an adventure. In the context of this film, that adventure is his life: from his childhood in Perth, to his early role in the American-produced, Australian shot fantasy series Roar (seminal turns in Blackrock and Sweat are glossed over), his American debut in 10 Things I Hate About You, through to Brokeback Mountain, The Dark Knight, and… well, we know how this story ends.
Along the way an impressive number of interview subjects paint a picture of a young man with an inquisitive, thoughtful mind who was aware, ironically perhaps, of how little time he might have to create the life he wanted. His father Kim and sister Kate are on hand to talk about his early life; musician and friend N’fa Jones describes how surreal it was to witness his friend’s rise to fame; Ben Mendelsohn relates how Ledger’s Hollywood pad was essentially the Gumleaf Mafia clubhouse, and so on. Filmmakers sing his praises, notably Ang Lee, who cast him in Brokeback Mountain, while friends and co-stars marvel at his talent and lament his loss.
The film does take a stab at positing the notion that we lost a great filmmaker in Ledger, albeit one who had yet to really explore the medium outside of a few music videos and a lot of camera noodling. It is, perhaps, too long a bow to draw; still, it is inarguable that the footage he did leave behind goes a long way into drawing us into his world, and the people who did work with him in this regard, notably N’fa and Ben Harper, are effusive in their praise.
What does come across is how beloved Ledger was, and in what esteem his colleagues held him in. The cynical might see it as edging too close to hagiography, but I Am Heath Ledger is an unabashedly affectionate portrait of Ledger the artist and Ledger the man, assembled with the help of those who knew him best.