WEIRDLAND: Contemplating Heath Ledger's roles

Monday, October 19, 2009

Contemplating Heath Ledger's roles

Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger in "Brokeback Mountain" (2005).

"I'm thinking of Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain, from the Annie Proulx story. The performance was a surprise; Ledger had not previously really shown evidence of such depth, calm or simplicity. It wasn't just that he made us believe in a "gay" cowboy; he made us think about Ennis Del Mar, this character who had the generally restricted world view of a Wyoming cowhand. I never lost some feeling with Brokeback of watching an actor attempting a very tricky role, and it is possible this owed something to Ledger's honest (and understandable) fear at playing a gay character.I found it easier to "lose" myself in his Joker in The Dark Knight. A great deal of that performance lay in the dazzle of the make-up and the showiness of the director's style. It didn't help Ledger at all in a key moment (where he threatens Maggie Gyllenhaal's character) that the camera insisted on whirling around the couple while Ledger's authority begged for stillness.That's where Ledger began to open up the chilly, demented humour of the Joker and its wounded philosophy. A lot of acting in films is being watchful, and waiting and listening. And these days too much of it, alas, is driving some futuristic vehicle or manning a weapon system that changes the colour of the actor's skin. But even in franchise films like Dark Knight there may be talk, and Ledger won his Oscar when he talked and a fine, warped mind flowered.Think of Mickey Rourke - so cute, so sly, so promising in Diner, Body Heat, Rumblefish and a few other things. Then he got taken over by the armoured idea of "Mickey Rourke" (rather in he way the human being in the Joker has been hijacked by the make-up and the image). So Rourke trashed himself for years and brutalised his own face and body. What happens? He makes a comeback, but doing "Mickey Rourke". He isn't an actor any more.Or think of Brad Pitt. There was a moment when Pitt was as electric as Rourke. It was the time of Thelma & Louise, A River Runs Through It and Kalifornia. It lived on in Se7en and Fight Club. But see what has happened! Pitt has been overwhelmed by spurious celebrity and dreadful star parts – all those stupid Ocean films, not to mention Button, the Tarantino travesty and so many others. You feel that Pitt longs for his namesake – a pit into which he can vanish, with the remote chance of resurrection some 10 years away.If you want to propose Pacino, De Niro and Nicholson as the outstanding figures of the 70s and 80s, who can be resigned about what has happened to them? They have become pastiches of what they once were. Early death is depicted as a tragedy for young actors, but it may be a mercy. Dean died with three performances in the bag that might have come to seem his most important. We know now that Marlon Brando made his best films at the beginning. This wasn't just the particular films he had. It was his appetite, his energy and innocence. As time went by, Brando fell out of love with himself and with acting.Ledger in his early 20s was a young hunk, a nice-looking fellow with some pride and panache. He's watchable in The Patriot, Monster's Ball and Casanova, and helpless in many other things. His very success as the Joker almost certainly means he would have been offered lots of money to spin off a Joker franchise". Source:

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