By now most of you, esp. those in NYC, would have heard about the death of actor Heath Ledger. You can still see him this summer as The Joker in The Dark Knight with (the ALWAYS wonderful) Christian Bale. Instead of speculating on the personal stuff (which has no correlation w/ someone’s talent), I’d like to take a few mins. to talk about his work.
Like many of you, I first saw Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You, a teen rom com (based loosely on Shakespeare’s comedy The Taming of The Shrew). That movie was breezy and fun, but in The Four Feathers (dir. by Shekar Kapur- he made the Elizabeth films w/ Cate B.) he got a chance to show some range. Heath (Australian), Wes Bentley (American), and Kate Hudson (American) played 3 v. close friends in 19th c. England who who have v. different reactions to an impending war (in the Sudan). Though this is a period piece with beautiful costumes, exotic locales, and all that- the young leads do a GREAT job of making it seem modern. Heath and Wes have been best friends for a LONG time, and are both soldiers. Heath and Kate get engaged, but Wes is (secretly) in love w/ Kate. And then the guys are summoned to war in a far-off place, but Heath’s character refuses to fight (thus garnering 4 feathers of cowardice, from his fellow soldier pals AND his fiancee!) His friends go off, BUT so does Heath (in disguise; he wants to protect Wes… and maybe get back some respect).
In that time, refusing to fight was (nearly) unheard of; Heath’s dad (also a military man) disowns him in this film. Kate does NOT stand by her man, b/c she also feels he has made the wrong choice not to fight. Wes Bentley, who is not a big star, but a FINE actor matches Heath’s work in The Four Feathers. You will NOT be able to tell he’s a country boy from down South! You can see Wes in the v. famous American Beauty and The Claim w/ Milla Jovovich and Nastassja Kinski. Some of the best scenes in The Four Feathers involve Heath and Djimon Hounsou (also in Amistad and Blood Diamond), the no-nonsense Muslim African man who watches over him in the Sudan. Yup, there was trouble between black and Arab folks even BACK then in Sudan!
Heath was nominated for an Oscar (and rightly so) for his work as Ennis in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain. In my opinion, his role was MORE of a challenge than the one played by Jake Gyllenhaal. It was a BIG surprise to ppl b/c Heath had never had such an opportunity to show his stuff. Yes, Jake is easier to relate to, but Heath had a lot of (internal) stuff going on in the film. I was crying in that last scene w/ the two shirts in the closet, just like half the theater! The v. beautiful scenery is another reason to see Brokeback Mountain.
Some people have a LOT of potential, my mom used to say, but they don’t fully realize it.