By GREG KING
Directors: Adrian Bruitenhauis and Derik Murray.
This respectful and poignant made for television documentary gives us some intimate insights into Aussie actor Heath Ledger, who died tragically young at the age of 28 in 2008, from an accidental overdose of prescribed medications. Unlike the recent documentary Amy though, this film doesn’t delve too deeply into Ledger’s dark personal demons nor the breakdown of his relationship with fellow actress Michelle Williams, who is the mother of his young daughter Matilda. In fact, Williams’ absence from the documentary is notable; we don’t get to hear any personal insights from her – probably the subject was still too raw for her – although she did give her approval for the film.
Ledger’s film work is well known through the variety of roles he played in films like the gay cowboy romance Brokeback Mountain or his Oscar winning turn as The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. However, less is known about his creative side off screen, and here we learn about some of his creative pursuits. Ledger always had a camera in his hand and was filming himself and his friends, and continually experimenting with the visual images. There is plenty of footage shot by Ledger himself. He was also a director of music videos for artists like Ben Harper, who talks at length about how he misses his friend and the gap his absence has left.
This poignant and intimate documentary gives us some revealing insights into Ledger and what drove him. He was a well-adjusted boy from Perth, full of boundless energy and creativity who was determined to become a successful actor. For a decade he burned brightly across cinema screens, from his breakthrough role in 10 Things I Hate About You through Ned Kelly, The Patriot, Lords Of Dogtown and to his unfinished final performance in Terry Gilliam’s bizarre The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus, and there are plenty of clips from his films to satisfy the fans.
We hear a lot of insights from Ledger himself, especially when he talks about his insecurities and bouts of doubt while working on The Patriot with his idol Mel Gibson. He admits that Gibson was probably his first real acting teacher and mentor, and it would have been nice to have some input from Gibson himself.
There are lots of candid interviews from his family, friends, his long-time agent/manager Steve Alexander as well as colleagues like Naomi Watts, Ben Mendelsohn – who talk about his generosity in opening up his Los Angeles house to visiting Australian actors and musicians – and a visibly moved Djimon Hounsou, who talks about his energy and creativity. We also hear from directors Ang Lee and Catherine Hardwicke. Clearly, he was a charismatic, bright and talented actor who had a big future ahead of him. Before his untimely death, he was preparing for his feature film directorial debut with The Queen’s Gambit.
I Am Heath Ledger has been directed and compiled by Derik Murray (who has made several other documentaries such as I Am Chris Farley, etc) and first time feature filmmaker Adrian Bruitenhuis. This is a respectful and reverential portrait that avoids asking the hard questions. There are obviously a few missing elements here that could have added so much more insight into the portrait of the complex character that was Heath Ledger. We get an incomplete picture. But what is here on screen in this 90-minute documentary will certainly satisfy fans of the late actor.