- Rated R
- Buy the Blu-ray
All photos © Focus Features
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
t’s amusing to think that something as meaningless as the Golden Globes would have such a big effect on the turnout of a movie screening, but alas, the flourishing crowd at Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain” proved otherwise. After the Globes announcement revealed Lee’s film sitting pretty at the top with seven nominations, it became hard not to suspect the interest level would skyrocket, and so it has, with whispers of That Gay Cowboy Movie gradually becoming the talk of the town. Except, to classify the film as such would be like describing “Titanic” as a movie about a rich girl falling in love with a poor guy on a boat. And while the description stands true, “Brokeback Mountain” is no less a romantic film than “Titanic,” or any other classic love story for that matter. In fact, it’s much better, which is why most people should probably see this. A good majority won’t, mind you, but they should.
Based on the Annie Proulx short story of the same name, “Brokeback” tells the tale of two men, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), who at chance meet in 1963 when they’re hired by a Wyoming rancher (Randy Quaid) to work up on, you guessed it, Brokeback Mountain. The two men spend their days herding sheep, shooting at coyotes, and eating beans, when along comes a particularly cold night that results in the two men – ahem – keeping each other warm. More than just a little cuddling takes place that night, as well as the ones that follow it, and when the summer’s over, they’re left with an experience they agree to keep between themselves.
What else are two straight guys to do? Ennis has already promised to marry girlfriend Alma Beers (Michelle Williams), and after spending some time on the rodeo circuit, Jack finally settles down with Lureen (Anne Hathaway), the daughter of a wealthy farm equipment supplier. Four years later, Ennis is still struggling to pay the bills as a farmhand when he unexpectedly receives a postcard from Jack inviting him to come to Brokeback for some “fishing.” Still playing the role of the loving husband at home, Ennis agrees to reunite with his old friend, but when their intimate bond becomes a recurring habit, they’re forced to cope with the choices they’ve made for the rest of their lives.
For ages, moviegoers have been absolutely fascinated with watching complex relationships unfold on the big screen – even ones that should be uncomplicated (like this one) – so it’s a pleasure when actors like Ledger and Gyllenhaal do it right. And while Ledger is given the bulk of the emotional material (as his character slowly learns how to adapt to the situation), Gyllenhaal’s Jack is more enjoyable to watch. At first sight, the sexual relationship between the two men is a bit awkward, but director Ang Lee has a way of shaping the film into a love story about two people that makes it much easier to accept. In doing so, Lee certainly deserves a considerable amount of admiration for taking on such a controversial project, but Ledger and Gyllenhaal earn most of my respect for braving through early criticism that the film would be a career killer. Instead, both actors will surely walk away with their pockets overflowing with golden statues and critical praise, not to mention plenty more juicy roles down the line.
Also deserving of some good words are screenwriters Larry McMurty and Diana Ossana, who have managed to successfully adapt a 30-page short story into a two-hour movie that only gets better with each minute. Proulx’ tale spent more time with the two men up on the mountain than it did when they returned, so a lot of the material in the second half of the story has been fleshed out accordingly; though it’s curious to note that once Ennis and Jack leave Brokeback, the film picks up speed and piles on the charm. A gay cowboy movie, you say? No, no, this is so much more. It may not be the year’s best film, but it’ll probably have the biggest impact of any other movie in 2005.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
Focus had two chances to put together a worthy collection of special features for “Brokeback Mountain” on DVD, but they didn't deliver either of those times, and unfortunately, the same goes for the film's Blu-ray debut. You'd think that Ang Lee could have been bothered to come in and record an audio commentary for the new release, but instead, the only extras included are the ones that previously appeared including a short making-of, a quartet of production featurettes, and a photo montage. In hindsight, the bonus material isn’t all that bad, but a movie of this level deserves better than this.