I haven't offended anyone yet that I know of with this blog, so I think it's about time to start. Heath Ledger died yesterday. Here are my thoughts.
1. Yes, it is sad. But, you know, not really anymore sad than anyone else dying (you didn't know Heath Ledger) unless you were deeply invested in Heath Ledger. If Owen Wilson had died, it would have meant a great deal to me. Heath Ledger, not so much. Which is not to say that Heath Ledger is less important than anyone else - but people die everyday and I don't worry about it too much. The fact that I knew of this particular man doesn't make his death anymore important to me than the death of others I was unfamiliar with, especially since, for the most part, I disliked his work.
2.Heath Ledger was not a very good actor. Yes, he was absolutely magnificent in Brokeback Mountain. I call this the Val Kilmer in Tombstone rule: If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, and then turns in one academy award caliber performance, it's still a duck. Just because Heath was great in one movie doesn't undo his otherwise general badness.
I will admit, I have not seen all of his movies. Here's what I have seen/not seen.
Not seen: Ned Kelly, Monster's Ball, Candy, Ned Kelly, The Order, The Brothers Grimm, Lords of Dogtown, The Four Feathers, I'm not There. I've heard good things about him in Ball, otherwise, nothing there interests me.
Seen (rating him, not the movie):
10 Things I hate About You: Bleck
The Patriot: Double-bleck
A Knight's Tale: Bleck
Casanova: Are Triple-blecks allowed?
Brokeback Mountain: nearly flawless.
So that's it. In 5 movies, a total of 4 (or 7) blecks and one really good performance.
3.The Dark Knight proviso. All word and trailers so far have pointed towards Ledger being amazing in the upcoming Batman sequel. If indeed he is excellent, I will consider amending my evaluation of him from "even a broken clock is right twice a day" to "many truly excellent actors start off crappy and hone their craft." We'll never be able to tell if he would have indeed made a Paul Newman-like development, but a great job as The Joker would at least suggest it. Stay tuned.
4.A.O. Scott missed this one. Check out this link: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/24/movies/24appr.html for "An Actor Whose Work Will Outlast the Frenzy," Scott's piece about how great Heath Ledger was, even if he didn't have time to live up to his potential. Scott does note that: "It seems inevitable that he will now be inscribed in the cult of the beautiful stars who died too young, alongside James Dean, Montgomery Clift and Marilyn Monroe." I agree with this. I haven't seen quite enough of Clift and Dean to be sure, but although those three were all beautiful, my initial thought is that none of them were actually that great at acting. Like those three, I think Ledger's critical reputation will be burnished over time by his death. We'll find out eventually