Wednesday, May 24, 2017

I AM HEATH LEDGER documents the late actor's too-short life with non-stop praise

I was certainly as much a fan of the actor Heath Ledger as anyone else, but after watching this very poorly judged documentary about him, in which not a single negative word is uttered or seems to ever have been thought or imagined by anyone on either side of the camera, one comes away from the film wondering how in hell the world missed this second coming of the messiah (or first coming, if you're a religious Jew). The movie may be titled I AM HEATH LEDGER, but TrustMovies can only imagine that Mr. Ledger would himself be embarrassed and annoyed at this vast and one-sided compendium of non-stop praise.

When, toward the end of the film, one of Ledger's best friends speaks about the actor's death, there is nary a mention of drugs, and instead we get the phrase "medicated sleeping." Right. As directed by Adrian Buitenhuis and Derik Murray (shown at left, with Mr.Murray on the right) and written by Hart Snider, this doc lets its interviewees go on and on about the wonders and talents of the actor until you are just about bludgeoned into submission. In between all the praise, you may still manage to learn a few things you didn't already know.

The film deals primarily with Ledger's life and ten-year career in the USA (he'd done some television and made three movies in his native Australia prior to this). From 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) and The Patriot through his posthumous Oscar for The Dark Knight (below) and his appearance in The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, which he never completed due to his death in 2008 at the age of just 28, that career is handled with enough detail to keep us interested and involved.

We hear from his father, mother and sister, and from many of his childhood-through-adult friends, as well as from Aussie actors such as Naomi Watts and Ben Mendelsohn. What they have to say, while germane, seems to have been edited for maximum positive, feel-good/sad reaction. One of the most interesting sections is devoted to director Catherine Hardwicke talking in detail about Ledger's work on character development for Lords of Dogtown.

Seeing this film will remind you anew of the very real loss Ledger's death proved to both the acting profession and to his loved ones and fans. But a documentary about this actor was an opportunity to genuinely probe, as well as to honor him, and that chance has been thoroughly muffed.

At the very beginning of the documentary, one of Heath's friends notes that "If it wasn't on the edge, it didn't interest him. If there wasn't some risk involved, he had no time for it." This, as much as anything, may account for the abbreviated life the movie gives us. Edgy/risky, after all, cuts both ways and may have led to that final "risk" Ledger took. Taking this into account and exploring it might have enriched this movie no end. Instead, it's all just "wasn't he wonderful!"

From Virgil Films and running 91 minutes, I Am Heath Ledger made its Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD debut yesterday, May 23, and is available now for either purchase or rental.

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