Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Why So Serious, Indeed. A Brief Note on Heath Ledger ...

So I had a ton to talk about today, from the Oscars to a review of Cloverfield, but I figured I had better get this one out of the way first so that I can then concentrate on the above topics and other lighter fare ...

Heath Ledger is dead, and it's a tragic day in the world of entertainment. I mean, I knew little about the guy personally, and I'd probably only seen him in a handful of films. But I think what strikes everyone so hard here is that even with all of Ledger's successes to date, the general consensus seemed to be that he was on the verge of truly great things.

From all accounts, Ledger's upcoming turn as The Joker in this summer's Dark Knight is set to be a performance for the ages. From what I've seen thus far, my anticipation level was at an all-time high for the movie, and that was in large part due to Ledger's seeming total commitment to putting a new, scary spin on one of fiction's greatest villains. And that was only the beginning. I think many anticipated that The Dark Knight would cement Ledger as a mainstream fan favorite and a critical darling. It would have established him as a guy willing to go to any dark place, to any mental extreme, to bring all manner of characters to cinematic life. It seemed almost a given that Ledger was well on his way to establishing himself as one of the best actors of his generation.

Now, instead of being the vehicle that would have catapulted Ledger into the stratosphere, The Dark Knight will be an unavoidably eerie final tribute. One can't help but evoke the names of people like River Phoenix or Brandon Lee, who were just beginning to come into their own as actors when they passed away far too soon. I have no idea if part of what allowed Ledger to delve so deeply into his characters was also part of what led to his death. In fact, right now the circumstances of his passing are still very murky.

Of course, the true tragedy here is that Ledger was a father and a friend to many. But to film fans, the tangible loss is that this was an actor who had film geeks everywhere breathlessly awaiting his latest performance, knowing that this was a guy who gave his heart and soul to do right by an iconic character. In a short time, Ledger had become an actor to get truly excited about. It sucks that we may not see that final film he was shooting with the great Terry Gilliam. It sucks that we won't ever see him collaborate with any of the great actors or directors he's yet to work with, or lend his talents to many great films yet to be made or imagined.

Undoubtedly, this news made to day a very strange day in the already-strange world of Hollywood, but overall it was just a sad and shocking bit of news to digest.

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