January 23, 2006

Movie Review: Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain has benefited greatly from a wonderful promotional campaign. It has been selling out theaters across the country, and building up a good head of steam behind it with plenty of Oscar talk and 4 wins at the recent Golden Globes ceremony. It has slowly been rolled out to the country, just enough screens to keep demand high. Now that we are getting into the Oscar home stretch, is the film deserving of all the attention? In a word, yes.

Ang Lee has crafted a quietly beautiful film that sneaks up on you emotionally and just quietly draws you in to the plight of its characters. It never feels manipulative or heavy handed, and credit goes to Larry McMurty's excellent script. Combine that with some gorgeous cinematography Rodrigo Prieto, and you have a recipe for a great to look at and emotionally involving film.

The story begins in 1963, two cowboys show up looking for summer work watching sheep on Brokeback Mountain. Those cowboys are Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger). While up in those hills, something happens between the two. It was as if something snuck up on them and brought the two closer in ways that they did not think was possible. This relationship is kept alive and secret for many years. Their summer of work and discovery comes to an abrupt end, and they go on with their lives, never forgetting the connection that was made.

The two go their separate ways, they meet and marry, starting families of their own. Even as this is going on, you can see that there is something missing from their lives. Some years down the road, the two are reunited. From there on, there lives are full of secret getaways, that void being filled only when they are together. The film barrels towards its tragic end that struck a chord within me, a haunting moment that will stay with you long after leaving the theater.

All involved put on an acting clinic. Heath Ledger leads the cast as someone who doesn't want to admit certain aspects of his reality to himself, much less his family. Watching Ledger breathe life into Ennis is eye-opening, it shows just what a talent Ledger really is. Not far behind is Jake Gyllenhaal, who has been quietly building quite a resume for himself, from his performance in cult favorite Donnie Darko to his role as a disenfranchised member of the military in Jarhead to what is probably his most mature and full role, here as Jack Twist. His character is different from that of Ennis, as he has a stronger grasp on what he wants, but it is something he needs and is unable to deny himself, which leads to other issues.

Running counterpart to those two are the women of our story. Michelle Williams plays Ennis' loving wife, but her world falls apart when she discovers Ennis' secret. Williams really brings a grounded, painful reality to her portrayal of Alma Del Mar. Anne Hathaway is Lureen Newsome, a rodeo cowgirl who finds herself drawn to Jack Twist. She is the daughter of a wealthy farm equipment salesman, and after marriage, is distanced from Jack by her work and Jack's return trips to Brokeback.

Brokeback Mountain is not without its flaws. Nothing really detracts from the overall beauty of the film, but a couple of things sort of bugged me. One is that we never really get a satisfactory closure to Ennis and Alma's relationship. There is a bit of a confrontation, but nothing that I thought felt definitive. The other thing, possibly the most frustrating aspect of the film, is the score. To put it nicely, it drove me nuts! It felt as if they were repeating the same couple of chords and notes all the time, there was no variety to the offerings, it was way to repetitive.

Bottomline. This is a fantastic movie that does deserve a lot of the attention it gets. It is a wonderful welcome back to Ang Lee, who almost left the business after his experience on Hulk. He has taken a wonderful script and delivered a beautiful movie. Ledger leads a wonderful cast in a film that feels genuine at every turn. I recommend this movie fully.

Highly Recommended.


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