Heath Ledger is an Australian born actor with a long, lanky frame, and intense eyes. After his Oscar nomination in 2006, Heath Ledger is undoubtedly a rising star, and one to keep an eye on. So what are his best movies to date?
10 Things I Hate About You (1999). Heath Ledger paired with Julia Stiles in this unexpectedly delightful modern remake of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Ledger played bad-boy Patrick Verona with a certain toughness that eventually gives way to the romantic hiding beneath. There was a lot of smart, tongue-in-cheek Shakespearean humor in the film, and it gave American audiences their first real glimpse at a hunky actor who had an endearing smirk, and obvious wit to boot. Heath was still dark-haired and tan in this film, giving no hint that he would eventually become a fair-haired icon. 10 Things I Hate About You was a big hit with the Gen X/Y crowd, and Heath Ledger looked to have all the makings of a teen eye-candy idol. But he was about to change that.
The Patriot (2000). Heath Ledger’s next role was deliberately chosen. He wanted a serious film – a war film. Something that would keep him from being type-cast as a teen heart-throb before his career truly took off. Ledger took the role of Gabriel Martin, the headstrong patriot who defies his father to enlist in the Colonial Army and fight for American Independence. The Patriot is an underrated and engrossing tale which mostly uses the Revolutionary War as a backdrop for a tale of dark personal loss, and most of the emotion comes from Heath Ledger’s character whose wife and brother are both murdered by a dastardly British Officer. Though Mel Gibson was ostensibly the star of this movie, Heath Ledger, the newcomer, steals every scene. With hair like a golden halo, fair skin, and an endearing idealism, Ledger reached the right note in a not-brilliant-script, every time. It was after his work in the Patriot that Hollywood began taking Heath Ledger seriously as an actor and not simply a teen idol.
Monster’s Ball (2001). And just to make sure that Hollywood would not forget that the golden boy could act, Heath Ledger followed up his performance in The Patriot, with a short but riveting role in the devastating Monster’s Ball. Ledger plays a prison guard, in a family where executions are the family business. His father is a racist and despises him for his compassion, which is mistaken for weakness. Heath Ledger pumps the character full of repressed anger and resentment, hating his father and needing his love all at the same time. And then finds a way to escape and scar his father forever. This was a serious, dark, and angsty movie. The fact that the fair-haired, sweet-faced Heath Ledger plays one of the most tortured characters was sheer casting brilliance. The lightness of his features, and the idealistic tone that he brings to his acting made the eventual crushing of his soul that much more compelling to watch.
A Knight’s Tale (2001). Heath Ledger’s next film would be lighter. In fact, A Knight’s Tale was downright whimsical. And it could have easily been a bomb were it not for the strange way in which the modern soundtrack and the historical setting were brilliantly blended. The movie was also helped with a stand-out performance from Paul Bettany, as Geoffrey Chaucer. This was Heath Ledger’s first attempt at a full-fledged leading role, and he did not botch the job. The love scenes were credible, and he brought a maturity to his charm and seduction that he lacked in 10 Things I Hate About You. But ultimately it was not his good looks, his bare chest, or his intense eyes that win over the viewers. It’s the tongue-in-cheek nature of the script, and the way that Heath’s face seem to say ‘Don’t take me too seriously’ that made the whole film come together as a medieval romp in which a peasant becomes a knight.
Brokeback Mountain (2005). Could there ever have been a film as unlikely as the gay-western, Brokeback Mountain? Whether Heath Ledger intentionally chose the role to defy expectations once again, or if it was just happenstance, it will likely be this movie that cements Ledger’s reputation as a great actor instead of just a good one. Heath Ledger took the role of Ennis, a manly cowboy who, nonetheless, falls in love with his friend Jack and must fight with his own internal homophobia. With a shy, lopsided smile, Heath Ledger was able to win over even some of the most skeptical audiences – viewers who did not want to sympathize with him in this role, even viewers who were rooting for him to fail. He gives what has been called an “astonishingly raw” performance, showing the kind of depth that few movie critics would have expected from the young actor. The role ultimately landed him an Oscar nomination, and though he did not win – how now operates under the highest expectations of a movie star.