This is a special edition of my Great Performances articles because I can only think of maybe two or three other actors, besides Heath Ledger, that have had two performances that are considered some of my favorites of all-time. Heath Ledger's work speaks for itself. His two Oscar nominated performances were for roles that could be considered polar opposites. He was an actor of rare versatility and fearlessness in front of the camera.

The first performance I will discuss was his break-out role in Brokeback Mountain. Heath's name had some significance in Hollywood before Brokeback Mountain came out, but when critics and audiences got a look at Ennis del Mar, they knew immediately they were looking at a rare talent.

Make no mistake, Gyllenhaal is excellent in this film, but Ledger just adds so much more to his character. He disappears into the role. When the film was released, Heath admitted that he was a bit intimidated by the part because he wondered if he was too immature to handle it. Well, that's just modesty. He creates a character so believable that it is one of the main reasons this film succeeds as a gay love story. For a movie like this to be effective, there needs to be believable characters, and Ledger certainly does his part.

It's quite possible that fans of The Dark Knight could look at Heath as Ennis del Mar and think it was a completely different actor. If you thought his voice was distinct in The Dark Knight, wait till you hear him grumble in Brokeback Mountain. His quiet, gruff voice feels real and honest, and it goes perfectly with his tight, nervous posture. In my opinion, he definitely should have won the Oscar over Philip Seymour Hoffman. There's no argument that Heath disappears into his role just as much as Hoffman did in Capote, and Ledger's performance is just so much more emotionally effective. You will be thinking about this film and this performance long after you see it for the first time. But I doubt you won't want a second viewing pretty soon after your first.

His next performance is The Joker from The Dark Knight. Ledger proved that he was a pure genius with this film. So much has been said about his work in this film that it's hard for me to add anything. His performance will be remembered forever as one of the greatest screen villains ever created, and in a year when nobody knew what the hell the Academy was doing, we all could be very certain that Ledger's family was going to take home that Oscar.

I remember vividly sitting in that IMAX Theater on opening night and looking at a performance that was true magic. From the pencil trick to the interrogation scene to the final showdown, every moment he was on screen you couldn't take your eyes off of him.

I recall watching Tim Burton's Batman shortly after I saw The Dark Knight and I was comparing the performances of Ledger and Nicholson. What's there to compare? They were two different visions by two great actors, of the same great character, and I think it's clear that Ledger knocked this one out of the park. To say that he outshined one of the greatest performers of our time is to say the least about his work here.

Ledger's last performance of all-time will be seen in the upcoming Terry Gilliam film entitled The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. So far, I have only heard good things about his performance in that film, although I doubt it will live up to these two simply because I don't think he's going to have that much screen time in this film. However, in his short time in
Hollywood, Ledger proved to be as promising of an actor as we have ever seen. It's impossible to look at his life and not be disappointed that we couldn't see more. It's also impossible to look back and not be astounded by what he did accomplish.


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Ennis I suppose is Greatest of All Time>>>although that year Viggo Mortenson was my clear winnner.I'm not quite so sold on The Joker though. A good performance certainly, but it wouldn't make my best of list. Certainly subjective though...And you did a good job of making us understand why you like these performances.

PS. Ummm...where are the women...?

Danny King said...

Thanks for your comments, Andrew. Within the next couple days, I'll definitely write about a female performance. Hopefully you'll agree with it.

Rae Kasey said...

Heath Ledger was such an amazing talent. Along with these two astounding performances I always think of the troubled Sonny in Monster's Ball.

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