Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Heath Ledger, RIP

I was going to write about the Oscars, and I probably still will, but the nominations are shadowed by the death of Heath Ledger. As I write this, I don't know why he died. Certainly when a 28 year old actor dies, one suspects drugs, but maybe it's not. It really doesn't matter.

Ledger will always be remembered for his brilliant role in Brokeback Mountain, one of the greatest films of the decade. He turned Ennis Del Mar into a truly tragic character, a man who lived in an intolerant time and place, a man who knew the kind of person he was but had no emotional capacity to express himself except with the single man he loved. The final scene of that film, with him speaking to the clothing of his dead lover Jack Twist, is one of the most powerful conclusions to a film I have ever seen. It continues to haunt me today, particularly with Ledger's death.

I haven't seen too many of his other films. I thought his work in I'm Not There was really quite strong given what he had to work with. Everyone talks about Cate Blanchett's performance, which was fine but is really just a impression of Dylan in Don't Look Back. Ledger had to create one of Dylan's more abstracted personas and I thought did a good job showing Dylan as more of a normal artist, which is still to say a fucked up and incredibly selfish guy. For me, it was the strongest performance in the film, along with Charlotte Gainsbourg as his wife. I thought he was also very strong in Monster's Ball, where he played Billy Bob Thornton's son who kills himself after Thornton berates him for his weakness in leading a man to execution.

But for Brokeback alone, Heath Ledger will always be remembered.