Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Two obits -- by the NYT's A.O. Scott and Slate's Dana Stevens -- try to unearth the nature of Heath Ledger's promise. I prefer Stevens' because it concentrates on the problem that James Wolcott (no link, alas) addressed earlier in the decade: young actors have no clue how to move in character. Ledger certainly did, according to Stevens. Based on the decidedly lethargic, almost stunted poses of Ledger's Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain, I'd say that Ledger found the predictably Method way around the problem -- and somehow made it work. That he also mastered the traditional Douglas Fairbanks' kind of kineticism in the overlooked Casanova tells me all I need to know about his talent (speaking of which: it's as rote as you'd expect, but there's pleasure in that, and it was a pleasure even then to see Ledger relax, especially when cast against Jeremy Irons doing his damnedest Basil Rathbone impersonation and still managed to look wan). Who knows what his Joker might be like.

I like this bit of Stevens about Ledger's role in 2005's Lords of Dogtown, in which he plays a funny, grittier variant on the Patrick Swayze part in the awesome Point Break, Kathryn Bigelow's 1991 absurdity about surfer-bank robbers.
This scruffy, inspirational sports picture, a fictionalized remake of the skateboarding documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, can barely contain Ledger's gonzo performance. He's fresh from Val Kilmer College, comically unhinged and unprecedentedly ugly. Late in the movie, after the Z-Boys skate their way to juicy endorsement deals and desert Skip one by one, he hurls surfboards off the roof of his store in a self-destructive rage, then sprawls on the roof's edge, guzzling from a bottle of whiskey while the crowd below gasps for fear he'll throw himself off.

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