Review: Heath Ledger

TITLE: Heath Ledger
AUTHOR: John McShane
PUBLICATION: 2008 by John Blake Publishing
FORMAT: Paperback


With his huge charisma, vast talent, and smoldering looks lighting up the screen, Heath Ledger quickly became a Hollywood A-list following his debut in the 1999 teen film 10 Things I Hate About You. But it was his award-winning and controversial role as Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain that cemented Ledger’s place in the pantheon of acting greats. He was one of the youngest actors to ever to be nominated for an Oscar, and it was on the set of Brokeback that he fell in love with his costar Michelle Williams, with whom he had a daughter in 2005. With the world at his feet and a star role in the new Batman movie—The Dark Knight—in the can, there was worldwide shock and disbelief following his sudden death in his New York apartment on January 22, 2008. Prescription drugs—found next to his body—were thought to be the cause, but mystery surrounded the circumstances. Was it an accidental death? Or were the pressures of life in the spotlight too great to bear? This is the tragic story of the brilliant actor whose light shone so brightly, but all too briefly, upon the world.


I’ve always been a fan of actor Heath Ledger. Ever since he was in that television series ROAR, I’ve been rather smitten and enjoy the man’s performances in films. Like many people I was stunned to hear of his death back in 2008. I was browsing the biography section of my local library when I came across this book and the desire to read it overcame me.

One of the first things which struck me about this book was the simplicity of the writing. The author doesn’t seek to find a million connections to the subject from so many angles that you forget who you are reading about in the first place. McShane just sticks to the simple facts and pads only the basic information that one might need to know without becoming too involved. The chapters are pretty short too so I do not believe that a reader will feel overwhelmed by lengthy descriptions. The best way to describe this book is short, sweet, and to the point. In one respect the concise nature of this biography might be its strength for readers whom might want “just the facts”, but I felt like I wanted a little more meat on my book’s bones.

After awhile I noticed that much of the information within these pages are quotes from interviews. That’s nice up to a point but I would have liked to had more insights from family, friends, and co-workers. I mean, there were some of that present, but not really a whole lot. The book didn’t really feel intimate as I was reading it. And what’s up with the love fest for Naomi Watts? We didn’t get the several pages of biography on Heath’s past relationships that we got with her… That entire chapter was 90% about her.

I admit that I haven’t seen everything that Heath was in, but I did see several of his pictures, and of course Roar (which probably remains my favorite). It hasn’t been until the last few years that I’ve kept a touch on the pulse of how favorably or harsh a film has been received. Some of the love or hate for the films that McShane recounts in this book puzzle me because I found The Order to be quite enjoyable. I have nothing against the homosexual nature of Brokeback Mountain and it was a good film, but I felt it would have been better if it were a shorter movie. (Apparently my attention span for romances is universal no matter what gender.) It’s based on a short story after all. Although I doubt I would have been much interested in seeing it if it weren’t for Heath being in it. This book devotes two chapters to this film… I think I’d rather see equal treatment for all films, such as a chapter devoted to each movie, but it seems like a few films received more page time than others and I’m left wondering why that is. Maybe the author decided to write more on his favorite films.

I loved that Heath was the type of actor who did things his way. He worked in films that he could have fun in or appealed to him. So often you see actors who get pigeon-holed into certain types of roles or films, but Ledger sought to diversify his roles so that he wouldn’t be thought of as just another teen flick heartthrob or the guy in those historical epics.

I think this would be a good choice for a casual fan who just wanted an overview of the actor’s life. I wouldn’t recommend purchasing it, but it might be worth looking into if your local library can furnish you with a copy. It could have been a much better tribute to a great actor, but it came off rather like a school report at times.



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