I remember the first time I saw 10 Things I Hate About You as a video rental back in 1999 (and to think that now VHS tapes are essentially antiques). Ledger's big introduction to the American public and thinking to myself, "This guy can do a lot better than this!"
And the thing is, time and time again-- he proved me right. Each movie seemed to be a step up from his last. Most folks laud him most for his performance in Brokeback Mountain but there are a couple of moderately obscure Aussie films that I much preferred over his Brokeback Mountain performance... Maybe it's just me but in that film-- in each and every scene he sounded as if he was talking with a mouthful of marbles... Is that how cowboys really talk? I thought it was more of a caricature of the perception of how they talk. I found it rather off-putting.
My favorite Ledger film (although certainly not his best performance), was in a little-known independent Aussie dark comedy called Two Hands. The film had a rather Australian sense of humor that did not translate well with American audiences, but left me in stitches. One scene in particular-- a bank robbery gone horribly awry. The cops shoot out the tires on the getaway car so the robbers carjack a businessman who happens to have a bumper sticker of the local radio station on his car. That very station is playing in the car as they make their getaway on a high speed chase. Meanwhile that radio station is doing a special contest where they give $10,000 away to the first car they see with the radio station's bumper sticker... That car happens to be the very one the bank robbers are using as their getaway car... And ironically that $10,000 is exactly how much they were trying to steal from the bank. The film also stars Bryan Brown whom some of you may remember as the older bartender from Cocktail or possibly as the photographer love interest of Dianne Fossey in Gorilla's In the Mist.
The other film of note that I'll always associate Ledger with is Ned Kelly, a biopic of Australia's most notorious bushman-- their equivalent to America's Jesse James or Billy the Kid-- although he's more of a cult-hero than the anti-heroes that James and Billy the Kid later came to be. There have been several films about Kelly over the years. Perhaps the most famous, prior to this one is from the early seventies and features Mick Jagger in the titular lead role. Jagger may be one mean singer and entertainer... But a good actor he is not-- not by any stretch of the imagination. Ledger's performance is leaps and bounds beyond his predecessor in that role.
With that in mind, I'm looking forward to this summer's release of The Dark Knight which many close to the film have said features the role of Heath's career-- The Joker. Initially I was really skeptical of Ledger in this role, I was hoping for Adrian Brody quite honestly. But from the trailers and clips I've seen, Ledger nailed the part-- a much darker and more sinister Joker than Jack Nicholson's rather cartoon-ish but well played caricature of that role.
While I'll wonder what other great performances we'll be deprived of as a result of a young talent being snuffed out well before his time, I'll continue to enjoy the fine roles he did grace us with in his all too short life.