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The 5 Best Heath Ledger Performances

by Oliver Lyttelton
April 4, 2012 10:15 AM
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"Candy" (2006)
Certainly the most underrated performance of the later stage of Ledger's career, the actor returned to Australia for Neil Armfield's lyrical, if over-familiar, addiction drama. As Dan, the boyfriend of the titular Candy (Abbie Cornish), the actor looks like the Platonic ideal of the bohemian poet, who drags his artist girlfriend into the mire of heroin addiction, aided and abetted by their mentor (Geoffrey Rush, excellent as always). The two young stars have palpable chemistry together, and Ledger brings a charm and fierce intelligence that's a million miles away from Ennis Del Mar. But he's also typically free of vanity: Dan does, and instigates, terrible things in the name of love (love of heroin, that is), and the actor never sugarcoats them. It's a testimony to the alchemy of his performance that you only realize the extent of his toxicity to Candy as the film wraps up.

Dark Knight

"The Dark Knight" (2008)
Taking on one of the most iconic screen villains was always going to be a challenge, given that Cesar Romero and Jack Nicholson had already delivered fairly definitive takes. No one expected Ledger to be the man chosen to don the make up, and certainly no one could have predicted his fierce, anarchic version of the character. And that's the key to his titanic performance: every tic, gesture, line-reading is unpredictable, making the character into a destructive force of nature that feels genuinely dangerous. The actor understands that the Joker shouldn't be funny to anyone but himself, and his skewed sense of humor is one of the most distinctive variations on the performance: despite attempts by the media to bring Ledger's commitment to the part into the narrative of his death, he told an interviewer while on the "I'm Not There" press tour that it was "the most fun I've had playing a character, hands down." And it shows. Even if Ledger had lived to see it, his Joker was always going to stand in the top tier of screen villains, and define the character for generations to come. 

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  • Harley Quinn | January 22, 2013 6:14 PMReply

    Heath's birthday was April 4, not today.... major fail.

  • Major Fail, Harley | January 22, 2013 6:20 PM

    Major fail, dude.

  • Harley Quinn | January 22, 2013 6:19 PM

    Damn, forgot to read the date on the article, major fail on my part lol.

  • Cleta | April 8, 2012 3:38 AMReply

    RIP Heath. A lot of us miss you and what you could have done.

  • Hank | April 6, 2012 2:47 PMReply

    I don't think I've seen anyone so effectively articulate the importance of Ledger's Brokeback and TDK performances. The Brando point was spot on. Ledger's performance is genuinely remarkable, I think it made people uncomfortable, so much they needed to find a way to laugh at it (thus the parodies). Great read, thanks.

  • rollo tomasi | April 6, 2012 11:30 AMReply

    i really like him in i'm not there him and charlotte gainsbourg have great chemistry

  • charlie | April 6, 2012 3:55 AMReply

    RIP Heath. Really seemed like a hell of a guy

  • Conan | April 5, 2012 11:31 AMReply

    RIP Heath Ledger.

  • Lee | April 5, 2012 9:46 AMReply

    I can't believe it's already 4 years..
    the reality of him not on this world again still made me teared up.

  • Heath You Are Missed | April 4, 2012 7:31 PMReply

    Even after 4 years it still hurts, like The Playlist says, he was just peaking. There would have have been lots of Academy Awards in his future. Love you always Heath! RIP

  • The Playlist | April 4, 2012 12:05 PMReply

    The sad thing which this feature demonstrates: Ledger was JUST beginning to find his groove, score great roles and stand out in them. He really stood out in "Monster's Ball" and "Lords of Dogtown," but how many lead, meaty roles did he get after that? All of the important ones are mentioned here. He was just beginning to peak. Even just 3-4 years of performances and we could have received so much more.

    And even then The Joker was a breakthrough performance for him that broke a dam. So much excellence could have come in its wake. Such a tragedy his death.

  • Oogle monster | April 4, 2012 1:58 PM

    Well said. He was on the brink of super-stardom. As much as I loved Pitt in The Tree of Life, Ledger would have been equally brilliant.

  • Huff | April 4, 2012 11:04 AMReply

    It's nuts to think that I'm almost as old as Heath was when he died. Everyone always compares him to James Dean so I guess once you pass him in age you really are an adult. Makes me want to get off my ass and accomplish something.

  • penny | April 4, 2012 10:35 PM

    OOgle, Brad Pitt wishes he had Heath Ledger's acting talent. Brad is very overrated.

  • Lewis | April 4, 2012 11:03 AMReply

    Terrific actor. If only we could see more great performances from Mr. Ledger. He was just getting started at 28 still he left behind some bloody brilliant work.
    RIP Heath Ledger

  • Tyrannosaurus Max | April 4, 2012 10:50 AMReply

    Man, I really hate when I think I'm just reading some plain 'ol information about a movie I've never seen that might compel me to see it in the future, when suddenly something like "shockingly, committing suicide in front of him" comes out of nowhere. Damn it. Is there really no need to warn about SPOILERS for something once it's 11 years old?
    Once it's 50 years old? I hate having endings spoiled for stuff just because it's old but my film professors love to do the same thing: "Oh well x is so old and classic you have to have all seen it, so let's just watch the last scene..."

  • Barb | April 11, 2012 10:57 AM

    I agree, T Max. A lot of people seem to think there's a statute of limitations on spoilers but I think it's just plain basic consideration to give a little warning before revealing key plot points. No matter how old the film is.

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