The seventh in co-director and co-producer Derik Murray’s I Am… series (which also includes I Am Chris Farley, I Am Evel Knievel and I Am Bruce Lee), this of course chronicles the life and work of the late lamented Heath Ledger (1979 – 2008), and while there are some curious omissions it’s, nevertheless, very moving indeed.
The film opens with Heath’s pal, muso Ben Harper, insisting that he shouldn’t be discussing this and this movie shouldn’t be happening (as in Heath should still be here). We then cut to sad but sometimes smiling recollections of Heath growing up in Perth. Family photos are offered by Dad Kim, Mum Sally and sister Kate, and then we skip through some of his early Aussie credits in favour of leaping ahead to when Heath went to the US and, with sheer optimism and charisma, talked his way into a lead role in the cool teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You. But what about the Sydney-shot Two Hands, produced around the same time?
Filmmaker Matt Amato (also a producer here) says he was Heath’s first Hollywood contact and friend, and he also begins to talk about Heath’s creative interests: music (Heath lazily strums a guitar and grins for the camera); photography (so much of his life was captured forever); and filmmaking, which allows Murray (and co-director/co-producer Adrian Buitenhuis) to use Ledger-shot videos, including a lovely one where Heath has a jokey Mission: Impossible-ish run around a hotel, just to entertain himself.
Heath’s agent Steve Alexander marvels at his “great swagger” and how he thought he was going to be a major star, and after 10 Things and The Patriot (alongside Mel Gibson, who doesn’t grace the filmmakers with an interview) we get into the goofy A Knight’s Tale, which made Heath a major star and rather freaked him out.
Ben Mendelsohn fondly remembers hanging-out for Entourage-like fun with Heath in LA, the subject’s friends Trevor DiCarlo, Kane Manera and hip-hopper N’Fa Forster-Jones relate some amusing tales, and then we get into Monster’s Ball, The Four Feathers, Ned Kelly, Lords Of Dogtown, Brokeback Mountain, I’m Not There (as one of the Bob Dylans), The Dark Knight (of course) and the once-thought-unfinishable The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus. Not exactly the expected career path of a standard heart-throb, according to many, and they’re right, as Heath wanted to challenge himself – although perhaps all that drive and burning ambition turned out to be a curse.
Featuring interviews with Heath’s co-stars (Naomi Watts, Djimon Hounsou, Emile Hirsch), directors (Catherine Hardwicke, Ang Lee) and friends and artists he helped with side projects, this notably lacks an interview with Michelle Williams (or their daughter Matilda). Then again, chances are it’s still too raw for them to talk about him. As Michelle often said to the press about their relationship at the time, it’s really no one’s business but theirs.
And Harper is right too: this very fine documentary shouldn’t have been made, and Heath should still be here.
Rated M. I Am Heath Ledger is now screening at selected cinemas for one week only