It’s hard to believe that it’s been five years since we lost the very talented Heath Ledger. A young actor with so much promise and a wide variety of performances under his belt, Ledger was set to be the new “it” actor and most certainly on his way to dozens and dozens of awards. Looking at his filmography now, there’s an added level of sadness to his roles, knowing that they all build up to his eventual death but that doesn’t take away the talent of the man. So, below are my six favorite performances (and films) of the late Heath Ledger.
The Joker- The Dark Knight, 2008
The most obvious film on the list, The Dark Knight shows us that Ledger was much more than an Aussie smile and a teenage heart throb. Ledger’s swan song is also his most terrifying performance, as the film was released six months after his death. While it’s hard to wonder if the film would be as haunting as it is in the aftermath of his death, it’s impossible to deny the shear talent of the man. Many thought Christopher Nolan’s casting of Ledger as the Clown Prince was a misstep but Ledger proved us all wrong with his performance and immortalized himself in film history as one of the greatest villains of all time. He steals every scene and there’s plenty of reasons why he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
Ned Kelly- Ned Kelly, 2003
Ned Kelly tells the story of one of Australia’s most infamous outlaws. A modern day (at the time) Robin Hood, Kelly would stand up against the English-Australians that controlled his country in the late 1880s. Seeing Ledger in his native environment, accent and all, adds a level of authenticity to the role. He’s an intense man, who may have done some rather terrible things, but is still the kind of hero you can get behind. He’s a folk hero of many sorts and Ledger embodies the icon perfectly. The final act of the film is incredible, and seeing Ledger lead a final stand at a hotel is very memorable, metal plates for armor and all.
Patrick Verona- 10 Things I Hate About You, 1999
In my review of 10 Things I Hate About You, I talked about the fact that its success relates to the incredibly talented young cast of actors who have all since gone on to bigger and better things. Ledger plays Patrick, a badass kid new to the school who gets tangled up in a Shakespearean re-telling and an unexpected romance. The film works as a whole and wouldn’t be the same had any of the cast members been changed, but 10 Things gave us Ledger and will always be the film that grabbed our attention.
William Thatcher- A Knight’s Tale, 2001
There’s a lot to be said about A Knight’s Tale. It’s a classic story told with modern flair and isn’t something you’re supposed to take that seriously. But, it’s so much fun and has some of the best jousting I’ve ever seen in a film. Ledger is not the standout of the film (that has to go to the incredible Paul Bettany) but he still gives a lot of weight to a film that could have been easily forgettable. If 10 Things got Ledger in the driving seat for his career, A Knight’s Tale floored it and took it all sorts of places.
Ennis Del Mar- Brokeback Mountain, 2005
Ledger’s Ennis Del Mar is a superior performance to The Joker. There. I said it. While I love the hell out of The Dark Knight and The Joker, Brokeback Mountain is an entirely different breed of film. Brokeback Mountain is a movie that shows us the power of love, even if it’s between two cowboys. At first glance, the film is easily parodied and joked about, but after watching it you’ll see it’s a lot more than what you expect. It’s beautiful, it’s powerful, it’s unflinching, and is one of the better romances of the 2000s. Ledger is phenomenal in the lead and seeing him struggle with his (to him) loss of masculinity and passionate desires is heart-wrenching. The final scene will haunt you, and Ledger’s performance paired up with Ang Lee’s direction and Gustavo Santaolalla’s beautiful score makes the film quite the masterpiece.
Dan- Candy, 2006
Along with Requiem for a Dream and Trainspotting, I don’t think I’ve seen another film to make me want to stay as far away from heroine as humanly possible. While the other two focus on the physical deterioration. Candy focuses on the destruction of the relationships, families, and friends of those addicted. Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish share the screen beautifully, and we are first introduced to them through a happily ever after lens. It’s only after heroine becomes a part of their lives do we see everything go to shit and Ledger is the anchor that keeps it grounded, never going off too far into being “preachy” or full of itself. A quiet, over-looked gem, Candy has one of Ledger’s best performances.
What are some of your favorite performances of the late Heath Ledger? Where would you have liked to see his career head had he not passed away?