Heath LedgerAs I expect every one of you knows, Heath Ledger died yesterday. I won’t speculate as to the details of his death (I’m sure the tabloids and gossip websites will have that covered) but I have no doubt that plenty of people are reeling from the loss. My original plan was to write about the following scene a few weeks down the road, but in the face of yesterday’s events, I thought it might be fitting to move it to the front of the queue.

The Film: Two Hands

The Song: “These Days”

The Artist: Powderfinger

Who’s Who: Jimmy (Heath Ledger) is a petty crook who has managed to parlay a minor opportunity for advancement into an abject disaster. After having $10,000 in mob money pilfered from him by a pair of street urchins, narrowly escaping a midnight attempt on his life, robbing a bank, gunning down several of Sydney’s finest, and running an Australian radio station’s Prize Patrol off the road, he’s finally managed to get himself square with Pando (Bryan Brown), the man whose money he lost. Even making his final payoff has been an ordeal; when Jimmy reached into his pants to pull out the money, Pando’s thugs assume he’s reaching for a gun and beat him savagely, almost strangling him to death with a telephone cord before Jimmy manages to thrust a pile of bills onto the carpet. Despite Jimmy’s initial ineptitude with a simple delivery job, Pando has decided that the bank heist was sufficiently “tidy” to warrant further opportunities with Pando’s crew. Jimmy, breaking into tears, has decided that he’s not interested.

Helen (Mariel McClorey) is one of the kids that originally stole Jimmy’s money on Bondi beach at the beginning of the film. Acko, a member of Pando’s gang, had run down her companion and then callously dragged his body to the edge of the road before simply driving on. Helen, of course, has plans for revenge.

The song used in this scene, “These Days” (download), is the Brisbane band Powderfinger’s most recognizable hit. They were formed in Brisbane in 1989 (named after the Neil Young song of the same name) and have enjoyed significant success in Australia, though they haven’t received much attention in the United States. It’s fairly rare for Australian bands to escape obscurity, with INXS and Men at Work being two of the only major exceptions. I’m only familiar with a few other Australian artists (Grinspoon and Xavier Rudd), although I’m sure there’s many more I’ve heard of without realizing they were from down under. “These Days” was actually written specifically for Two Hands, and although I find it to be a bit too faux-epic for my tastes, it works perfectly in the following scene.

Why it Works: The slow fade in the song’s introduction provides a nice transition from the tension of Jimmy’s showdown with Pando. The photography and editing in this scene is brilliant: notice how the guitar hits just as the silhouette of Helen (yes, it’s a girl), one of the kids who stole the cash from Jimmy near the beginning of the film, turns the corner from the sidewalk into the staircase to Pando’s lair. Jimmy’s loose-shouldered walk as he saunters down the stairs shows how he’s managed to completely divorce himself from the events of the past few minutes, and his stunned expression as he encounters Helen shows that he recognizes the intelligence of this decision. The defocused fade as Jimmy continues down the stairs, and his unbroken stride as he walks down the boulevard, despite the gunshots he hears, shows that he has, quite simply, left all of it behind.

The dollar bill that catches Wally’s attention was actually drawn by him earlier in the film; it exists as both a thread to tie the earlier events in the movie with the final scene, and as a final omen for the events that are about to transpire. The final shootout between Helen and Pando’s gang is magnificent in its realism. Pando flinches, like anyone would, as Helen misses her target twice, before her final bullet flies true and ends his life.

What Goes Wrong: Not much. I’m not too enamored of the final closeup of Helen’s eye and the fireball transition into Jimmy pounding on an apartment door (it reminds me too much of the ridiculous “triple-twist” conclusion of The Devil’s Advocate), but I can’t think of how I’d have done it any better.

Other Stuff: Heath Ledger was a talented actor. He’ll be missed.