In Pictures: The 10 Best Heath Ledger Movies
Patrick Verona – 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
Ledger plays Patrick Verona, a modern-day Petruchio, in this Taming Of The Shrew-inspired tale. Verona is a mischief-maker with a strong moral conscience, a motorbike – and dreamy eyes. His performance – through a megaphone – of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You from the bleachers of the school’s sports stadium remains one of teen film’s most romantic gestures.
Gabriel Martin – The Patriot (2000)
Though Roland Emmerich’s epic film about the American War of Independence had a hokey, melodramatic feel, Ledger performed competently in his first major serious role. He played a stubborn, square-jawed young buck named Gabriel Martin who joins the Continental Army against the wishes of his father (Mel Gibson). Though Gibson’s masterful performance overshadows Ledger’s, The Patriot was a stepping stone: Ledger’s smouldering frown and ability to snugly pad out historical garb would be demonstrated to greater effect the following year in his leading role in A Knight’s Tale.
William Thatcher – A Knight’s Tale (2001)
In this thrill-a-minute adventure romp, Ledger plays a peasant who travels in search of fame and riches, which he wishes to accrue by taking part in jousting competitions. Ultimately standing in his way is evil adversary Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell), whom he eventually dispatches in a final joust-off. It’s knockabout fun, but Ledger nevertheless plays the comic hero to perfection.
Sonny Grotowski – Monster’s Ball (2001)
It was Ledger’s role as Sonny, the troubled son of prison guard Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton), that gave the opening act of Marc Forster’s red-raw Louisianan morality tale its vinegary bite. Sonny’s nervous collapse during a Death Row execution brings their filial tensions to a grisly head, climaxing in an unforgettable showdown between Thornton and Ledger in the Grotowski family’s living room.
Ned Kelly – Ned Kelly (2003)
Ledger’s swaggering turn as the Australian folk hero was the trump card in Gregor Jordan’s otherwise workmanlike Outback Western. The film was praised for finding in Ledger an actor young enough to portray an outlaw whose most notorious lawbreaking was accomplished in his early Twenties (Kelly was hanged at the age of 25). Ledger himself would die less than five years after its release.
Ennis Del Mar – Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Ledger gives a powerful, emotive performance as Ennis Del Mar, one half of a rugged Midwest cowboy duo – Jake Gyllenhall is the other – who engage in an illicit homosexual affair behind their wives’ backs. Ang Lee’s film was nominated for eight Oscars, and won three, though Ledger missed out on the Best Actor award, a fate he also suffered at the BAFTAs and Golden Globes. As a consolation, Brokeback Mountain reaffirmed Ledger’s credentials as a Hollywood leading man – though he would only go on to make four more movies.
Dan – Candy (2006)
A neglected film outside its native Australia, Neil Armfield’s harrowing drug-abuse drama from 2007 is a well-kept secret: it contains Ledger’s very finest work. When he’s giving into the bliss of a pure heroin high, or slumps whimpering in the shower while his entire frame screams at him to fuel the addiction, the mixture of emotions that plays out on his face is extraordinarily frank and complicated. It’s hard not to be curious about what well of personal experience he may, or must, have tapped in this performance. But it’s even harder to deny, having seen it, that Ledger was an amazing actor.
Bob Dylan – I’m Not There (2007)
Todd Haynes’s 2007 biopic about Bob Dylan featured several famous faces portraying the American singer-songwriter in different guises. Ledger played Robbie Clark, a character who represented Dylan experiencing a very painful break-up with his wife Sara during the mid-Seventies. Clark is a bottle of anger and heartache, a man who has rocketed to fame and is struggling to connect his personal, family life with his very public life. It’s perhaps not Ledger’s finest role, but it is an admirably convincing performance.
The Joker – The Dark Knight (2008)
There has never been a performance quite like Ledger’s as the Joker. From the second he lopes into view, greasy hair swept back with a careless hand, he dominates every scene in which he appears, exhibiting a ferocious energy and a genuinely terrifying sense of threat. “Why so serious?” he snarls, his sad, scarred face filling the screen. It’s acting on a highwire, and absolutely compelling.
Tony – The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)
Heath Ledger died a third of the way through the filming of Terry Gilliam’s 2009 fantasy, forcing the director to radically rethink the rest of the movie. Ledger plays the mysterious Tony, an amnesiac philanthropist, who is found hanging from a tree by a troupe of actors. After Ledger’s death, Gilliam decided to morph the character into different bodies, played by Jonny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, who all stepped in at the last minute. Ledger’s Tony is a confused, charming, seductive and wayward soul, with some obvious parallels to the Australian actor himself. DBS
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