A good actor a likeable character doesn’t always make

Heath Ledger likes to play rugby. He likes to dance and drink and do all the other activities that go along with being a British soldier in 1898.
He likes it all except going to war.
In The Four Feathers, audiences are expected to like – and root for – Ledger in his portrayal of Harry, a noble lad who gets engaged and is told he has to fight in the Sudan in the same week.
But we aren’t given any reason to do so other than a cute smile and the fact that – deep down – we know that Harry is really Heath Ledger, the saucy Australian hunk who starred in The Patriot and A Knight’s Tale.
There is a trend in Hollywood’s latest attempts to present audiences with flawed characters in order to force dramatic tension upon otherwise lackluster storylines. The catch: Cast a well-known actor in the main role, and that’s all audiences will need.
To his credit, Ledger isn’t given enough time to endear his character to the audience before we follow him halfway across the world. But when he makes an early speech in which he confesses that he actually is a coward, what more do we need? And therefore, why do I care what this guy does for the remainder of the film?
We also fall prey to Jennifer Aniston’s charms in The Good Girl, in which the unhappy Justine cheats on her husband with a troubled youth and then later turns her back on him.
But we like Rachel Green when we watch Friends, don’t we? And, after all, she is the star of The Good Girl. So, of course whatever she does is the right thing. Right?
Look, I’m not saying that main characters have to be likeable for films to be a success. Christian Bale was brilliant in American Psycho, yet we hated him. Robin Williams doesn’t have one likeable bone in his creepy body in One Hour Photo.
And that’s fine. Those movies still work.
But when you present a protagonist on the screen, there should at least be some underlying characteristics to help make us care.
We see this work well with Tom Hanks in Road to Perdition. He kills people, but we realize he’s a good father.
Aniston and Ledger are simply selfish in their respective character’s pursuit for happiness.
We will see it this weekend, as well, when America’s newest sweetheart, Reese Witherspoon, takes on the role of a Southern belle turned jaded New Yorker in Sweet Home Alabama. At first, we see her as a struggling fashion designer who nabs a JFK Jr.-esque beau for a fiancé. But when she returns home to Alabama, she’s totally rude and condescending to all of her former townsfolk.
Why do we want her to get back together with the rugged, handsome good ol’ boy? He deserves better.
But wait, what am I saying? She’s Reese Witherspoon, silly.
We like her.
But hey, that’s just like my opinion, man.

Contact Will Albritton at oraclewill@yahoo.com