5. 10 Things I Hate about You (Gil Junger, 1999)
As one of Ledger’s earliest films 10 Things I Hate About You displays a youthful curly-haired Ledger once more playing the lothario. In this adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming Of The Shrew abrasive Kate played by 90’s star Julia Stiles is the older sister to the virginal and deeply desirable Bianca played by Larisa Oleynik. Their father forbids Bianca from dating until the caustic Kate begins seeing someone, an event, the father indulges in a self-congratulation, that is not in the foreseeable future.
Another of Bianca’s suitors however develops a plan to pay Ledger’s Patrick Verona to date Kate allowing him to simultaneously woo Bianca. Ledger takes the money and begins the difficult challenge of charming hostile Kate, both believing the worse stories that follow each other to be true. Through time they begin to unravel the extraordinary myths attached to their reputations and connect to the person underneath.
Ledger balances playing a charming rogue with displaying a genuine caring affection for Kate which culminates in one of the most memorable scenes from the film, his iconic rendition of ‘Too good to be true.’ In a bid to win over Kate’s affection or at least capture her attention Patrick commandeers the school’s intercom system to sing to her as she plays football. His goofy dancing and teasing of the school security staff is highly entertaining and portrays Patrick does not take himself so seriously.
4. Lords of Dogtown (Catherine Hardwicke, 2005)
Tracing the origins of modern day skateboarding to California in the 1970s, Lords of Dogtown blossomed following the release of the documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys four years prior. Showcasing the development of 3 young skateboarding mavericks Tony, Jay, and Stacy begin as aspiring surfers, mocked by the experienced surfing veterans Skip and his friends.
Ledger stars as Skip Engblom. Blonde, brash, and looking to make some quick money he begins ‘sponsoring’ the teens to enter into skateboarding competitions, cornering the market on local talent having scooped up the most talented skateboarders in the California area. The rebel rousers begin skateboarding in dried up swimming pools and at first they stand united in their shared skateboarding dream.
Suddenly winning however, the financial prizes prove too tempting and the group divides, Ledger’s Skip laments his loss of his assured financial gains and is swiftly removed from the boys’ live as their talent takes them beyond his reach. Ledger’s Skip is conniving, selfish, and manipulative and he plays him with a cocky swagger as he strolls barefoot or sweeps his hair out of his eyes.
Despite his manipulative nature he’s a piteous character, himself used up and cast aside, as showcased in his final scene where he is seen sanding down a surfboard to be sold. This action takes place in the shop he used to own, Skip has been relegated to a side-room, an employee in the shop he used to own, with no friends, and stuck singing to himself while he slurps down warm beer.
3. Candy (Neil Armfield, 2006)
Candy begins with lovers Candy and Dan passionately clinging to each other as they spin around a rotor fairground ride that from a bird’s eye view resembles a hypodermic needle. This opening foretells the downfall of their relationship. Divided into three parts the plot depicts their relationship spiralling down through Heaven, Earth, and Hell until the couple have nothing left except the final dregs of old heroin squatting at the base of a syringe and broken hearts.
Ledger plays Dan, a fly-away short-term thinking Australian drug addict who confesses early in the film ‘ I wasn’t trying to wreck Candy’s life, I was trying to make mine better’ but whose influence inevitably leads to introducing Candy to injecting heroin. The couple briefly flourish in the golden sunlight of new young love and her fresh heroin addiction but quickly the ill effects seep into their lives. Candy turns to prostitution to fuel their habit and the couple crumple under mounting life stresses.
The film is deeply saddening as Ledger’s Dan struggles to hold Candy and their relationship together. Dan is ill prepared to give her the help and strength she needs but that is not without trying. Unfortunately Dan’s incompetence results in standing by as Candy slides deeper into an emotional and mental breakdown.
Ledger’s acting makes a watcher long for the couple to work it out to somehow stay impossible in the opening ‘Heaven’ section of their relationship. It is not until the end when Dan finally accepts a level of responsibility and makes an experienced and painful decision that the scale of Dan’s emotional journey told through Ledger’s acting is fully revealed.
2. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)
Ledger’s Joker was hotly anticipated. 19 years after Nicholson’s maniacal vision Ledger stormed the multiplex screens with his modern rendition. First glimpses of his take creeped into The Dark Knight trailers leading fans to question if the green-haired scarred figure really was Ledger whom had recently completed his touching and delicate portrayal of Ennis in Brokeback Mountain.
Instead this chilling figure appeared clandestine in his moral quest of forcing Batman’s hand into murder or to prove to the public that chaos rules in the hearts of the common man and woman. Michael Caine who plays Alfred first saw Ledger in full make-up when the Joker storms Harvey Dent’s fundraiser. The shock on Caine’s face is real and evidence the hypnotic power of Ledger’s acting. The Joker’s continuing quest reveals the Joker’s dark underbelly and some of his most poignant scenes occur as he goads several side characters to crumple against their believed morals.
One of the best scenes occurs when Ledger plays the Joker in the interviewing room and goads a police officer into physically harming him. By verbally manipulating the police officer the Joker gains the upper hand by using the police officer’s life as leverage for a phone call. Ledger’s skill at playing the amoral manipulative Joker earned him a posthumous and completely deserved Oscar.
1. Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005)
Director Ang Lee’s vision of Annie Proulx’s short story was wholly dependent upon the acting skills of Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal and their ability to convince audiences of their deep-rooted need for each other amidst an era that was unforgiving towards homosexual love. They succeed.
Gyllenhaal is Jack Twist to Ledger’s Ennis Del Mar. Twist is younger and morefiery, and spends much of his time trying to convince Ennis to leave with him so they can live together. Ennis, unable to unlearn his homophobic upbringing from his father continues to deny and deny Twist’s desire knowing he continues to push him away.
Ennis appears at first cool and disinterested, and then reserved to the point of emotional paralysis but his deeper and more powerful passions are revealed in Ledger’s subtle eye movements, the small twitch of his lips or the ducking of his head. Brokeback is ultimately told through Ledger’s movements. Ennis’s emotional developments, conflicts, and resolutions are formed through his physical changes and the story is swept along via his emotional peaks and troughs.
Exceptional scenes include Ennis’s breakdown and their reunion; times in which Ennis is laid bare. The complex layers of Ennis can be seen primarily after Jack leaves for the first time, and Ennis is seen in Twist’s car mirror calmly walking along the road before he ducks into an alley to weep bitterly and punch the wall in frustration.
Another exceptional scene occurs when Jack and Ennis are reunited and Ennis pushes Jack out of sight up against a wall to passionately kiss him. These moments are only made more poignant given Ledger’s previously skilled portrayal of Ennis’s emotional unavailability and it is Ledger’s ability to play such extremes that shine through so clearly in this Ennis role.
Author Bio: Cassice Last is currently studying for a Masters degree in Film Studies at the University of St Andrews. She spends most of her time watching or writing about films and the rest hiking and cycling.