Monday, December 19, 2005


Brokeback Mountain (2005): Reviews

After all the anticipation of these last few months, it would have been easy for Brokeback Mountain to fall short of my heightened expectations. And while I was slightly disappointed at how tame the love scenes between Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal turned out to be, that is all the more reason why this movie deserves a wider audience than any mere "gay cowboy movie" could expect.

It seems likely to get it: The suburban Chicagoland theatre where we saw the film had its small share of obviously gay and lesbian patrons, but the overwhelming majority of our companions were straight couples of all ages, skewing toward the older range. (We saw the movie at 5:20--the last matinee time--which may account for the early-bird-special appearance of the crowd.)

And without exception, the audience seemed to react appropriately to the material. That is, there were no gasps of shock when, 25 minutes into the film, Gyllenhaal and Ledger roughly dove at one another, clearly conflicted, and Ledger rolled Gyllenhaal onto his stomach to enter him. A few (off-screen) thrusts later, the most sexual scene in the movie was over.

That paragraph, by the way, was more graphic than the film. In case you were wary.

The rest of the film played out perfectly, with the music underscoring the majesty of the mountain surroundings that provide many of the scenes between the two lead actors with additional drama. And I know I was not the only person in the theatre reduced to tears by the end, watching Ledger deal with his regrets.

The final scene between the two actors--which you won't realize is just that at the time---adds an emotional heft to their entire relationship, showing both how connected they have been and how their internal conflicts about their relationship--particularly Ledger's--have denied them the only chance at happiness that life will ever present to either of them.

Heath Ledger's performance is a small miracle. While Gyllenhaal is more than competent, it is Ledger who is called on to convey the difficulty of being two people at once, and it is his character, against the odds, whose life shows more scars as a result of their separation. His sorrow--and, for a few moments with Gyllenhaal's character, his joy--is worn on his face, in his body, and behind his eyes, and Ledger manages to capture all of it. When he finally acknowledges these feelings to himself in the film's closing moments, using, appropriately, only three words, the pain is palpable.

It would be unfair not to mention the acting of Michelle Williams, who plays Ledger's anguished wife, or Anne Hathaway, whose Texas princess character brings a lift to the movie and Gyllenhaal's character that, of course, cannot last. Hathaway's facial expressions during a minor family dinner scene and during the all-important phone call near the film's conclusion contain oceans of information about her relationship with Gyllenhaal, and the final confrontation Williams has with Ledger demonstrates quite clearly the pain his frustrated life inflicts on those around him.

To say that this is the best movie I've seen in 2005 is probably unfair for two reasons. First, I haven't seen enough of the critically-hailed films of the year to know whether this is really the best. And second, I haven't seen a movie this good in a good many years, perhaps since American Beauty. It's that good. Go see it.


Anonymous said...

It's perfectly fair to say that it's the best move you've seen.

Richard said...

Yes, yes--I could have phrased that better, couldn't I? What I mean is, it seems unfair to judge this entire year when there are so many allegedly good movies out there that I probably won't see until they're on DVD. I have no trouble saying American Beauty was the best movie I saw, or will ever see, that was made in 1999. While I feel confident that nothing else from 2005 will top Brokeback Mountain in my esteem, I don't feel it would be fair to declare that a certainty right now. Makes sense, right?