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I Am Heath Ledger (2017)

Virgil Films
DVD Released: 5/23/2017

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/24/2017

People have been interested in information about celebrities...well...probably forever. In the early part of the 20th century, the public began to clamor for information concerning individuals from the worlds of movies and music. Just look at old newsreel footage and you'll see how pieces on stars were inserted within the headlines. For decades, magazines and the occasional television show were the only way to get tidbits on celebrities. However, in today's world, thanks to the internet and social media, we are constantly bombarded with news about the rich and famous (often facilitated by those people themselves). However, that doesn't mean that there can't be more to learn. I Am Heath Ledger shows that something like this can always dig deeper.

I Am Heath Ledger is a documentary which focuses on the life of the late Australian actor. Through interviews with Ledger's family, friends, co-workers, and loves, the movie explores Ledger's humble beginnings in Australia, where he lead a pretty normal life, save for the fact that he clearly liked being a performer. After earning the lead in the short-lived Australian-lensed television show Roar, Ledger moved to America to try his luck in Hollywood. It didn't take long for him to find success in 10 Things I Hate About You. He could have easily pursued roles in other teen-focused movies, but instead, he sought parts in a diverse set of dramas, including Monster's Ball and The Four Feathers. Ledger really showed his willingness to separate himself from his peers by starring in Brokeback Mountain, a role which earned him an Oscar nod. However, Ledger would undergo his most severe transformation for his role at The Joker in The Dark Knight, for which he finally won an Academy Award. Unfortunately, that honor came posthumously, as Ledger died on January, 22, 2008 from a drug overdose.

Unlike so many other contemporary documentaries, I Am Heath Ledger tells its story in chronological order. Save for some jumping around, the documentary follows Ledger from his early years, through his rise to success in Hollywood, and his critical respect. Of course, most of this is public knowledge. The movie reveals some more obscure information as it looks at Ledger's private life. We learn that he has a strong group of devoted friends and that he was known to open his house to visitors who needed a place to stay. We also learn more about his side-projects and his desire to help up-and-coming artists. We hear from Naomi Watts, but the piece never takes a turn into tabloid land by dwelling on Ledger's romances. Of course, the movie does talk about his relationship with Michelle Williams and their daughter. But, even this important piece is kept to a minimum.

We do hear from Ledger's parents and siblings here, so two things are fairly obvious. The family was clearly very involved with this documentary. They offer a great deal of the commentary and provide a lot of information. It can also be assumed that their involvement was contingent on the movie maintaining a positive tone and never becoming a smear-piece. So, as noted above, Ledger's love-life is glossed over, as is his death. While they admit that he died from a drug overdose, which is called accidental, some of the other details of his death which made it into the press aren't mentioned here. And while the array of interviewees here is impressive, there are some obvious absentees. Michelle Williams is a very private person, so while it's not surprising that she doesn't appear here, and it most likely would have been very difficult for her to speak of her late love. However, it would have been interesting to hear what she would have had to say about what Ledger was like off-camera. Also, given Ledger's praise for his work on The Dark Knight, I would have liked to have gotten some comments from Christian Bale or Christopher Nolan, especially given how unrecognizable Ledger was in the role.

For devotees of Heath Ledger, I Am Heath Ledger is indispensable. Even if you have read or seen things about him over the years, I think even the biggest fans will learn something here. Casual observers will not only be enlightened by the information here, but you will be impressed by the depth of the piece and the involvement of Ledger's family. Yes, it chooses to paint him in a very positive light and there are way too many shots of Ledger spinning, but this is a well-done documentary which shows that being chronological and tasteful can produce something special.

I Am Heath Ledger does get too serious on DVD courtesy of Virgil Films. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer has been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The primary images of the interviews are very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source materials. Keep in mind that the documentary blends the modern interview footage with old interviews, movie clips and Ledger's home movies. Therefore, there is an overall mixture of video quality here. While most of it looks fine, the modern-day transfer does show off the flaws in the older videos. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The audio makes itself obvious during the film clips, otherwise, we get pretty standard sounds, which is fine, as all of those being interviewed are clear and easy to understand.

The primary extras on the I Am Heath Ledger DVD is "Additional Stories from Heath, His Family, and Friends", which is an 8-minute reel of interviews which didn't make the final cut. The other extra is a 3-minute clip which serves as the "Heath Ledger Scholarship Introduction".

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long