Monday, 22 January 2018

I AM HEATH LEDGER review

Released this week to commemorate the 10th anniversary of his death, I Am Heath Ledger uses hours of footage shot by the man himself, as well as interviews with some of his closest friends and family to tell us who he really was.

Produced with the blessing and involvement of his family, I Am Heath Ledger isn't a collection of recycled red carpet footage or ghastly countdown of his last 24 hours, but is in fact a well produced and very heartfelt look at what drove him as an actor and creator. It's perhaps not well known, but Heath Ledger liked to document his life via photographs and homemade videos - sometimes short films, sometimes conversations with friends and sometimes him just doing nothing. That footage is used here and helps paint an intimate portrait of who he really was behind closed doors.

Leaving home at 17 to go travelling around Australia, after finding acting work on television programme Roar, he soon made the leap to the US and stardom. As well as interviews with his family, there's also touching anecdotes from stars like Naomi Watts and Ben Mendelsohn telling stories about how after he found fame, Heath's home became a halfway house for numerous up and coming actors trying to replicate his success in LA. He was a generous spirit who didn't care for the pomposity of the Hollywood scene, and so he kept his old friends around him at all times and shared his good fortune.

It's apparent that with his leading man looks and debut role in a successful teen movie that Ledger was underestimated as an actor for far too long. This film is not a dissection of his entire career (his work in Australia is barely mentioned), however Heath Ledger is still an interesting case study of how to become a respected actor with career longevity by choosing projects carefully and opting to work with people you admire and respect. His agent recalls the time Heath was being talked about for the role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man, something he was quick to dismiss as something he knew he was not right for and what wasn't right for him. Instead he worked with talented directors like Ang Lee, one of the many voices here who praise his devotion to his work.

Among the revelations from the film is his interest/bordering on obsession with artists such as Nick Drake, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain, all of whom died before their 30th birthday. The film does briefly ask questions about the manner of Ledger's death, but it isn't concerned with trying to find answers or indulge speculation.

Perhaps the most enjoyable element of this film is the use of his homemade footage and recordings. It's a revealing and ever expanding diary of footage that strips away any sense of Hollywood glamour or ego and shows a young man dealing with his celebrity status by finding the ridiculousness in his life. It's difficult to speculate where his career might have taken him in the last ten years, but he did seem to want to edge his way behind the camera at any given opportunity. Sure, this footage is rough around the edges and his intentions may have been for it to be for his eyes only, but there's a playfulness on show and even recurring motifs, like his spinning selfie shot that builds into something quite moving by the end of the film.

It could be easy to presume that this documentary, released on the tenth anniversary of his passing, is little more than a shoddily made, cynical cash in; but thankfully that isn't the case. What is most striking about the film is how many of his closest friends and family have come forward to talk about their admiration for him as an artist and as a man (the only real key voice missing is Michelle Williams, and her absence is understandable), and how it is able to tap into real emotion when using his self made footage to show us a side of him not always visible in his films. Extremely touching and at time heartbreaking, I Am Heath Ledger manages to avoid over-sentimentality to be a true celebration of who he was.

Verdict
4/5

Extra features include more stories from family and friends and a trailer.

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