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DVD Review: Brokeback Mountain (2005)

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Everyone knows the story is about two gay cowboys, but the full story is about their struggle with accepting their sexual identity as well as their family’s reactions. It starts off with the two young men, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), searching for work as sheepherders and due to a lack of funds, taking on an isolating job on the majestic Brokeback Mountain in the summer of 1963. During their time working together, their friendship develops and eventually they discover more hidden feelings that lead into an unexpected life-long relationship filled with turmoil, love, and loss. I’ll spare you any more description since it’s been written about to some extent already.

As for the performances, they were exceptional as the Academy and all the other award-giving societies had also recognized it with nominations and awards. Heath Ledger gave a stony and quiet performance while Jake Gyllenhaal provided a more emotional and passionate performance. My favorite acting was not by either cowboy, though, but by Michelle Williams, who plays Ennis’s unwanted wife. She played the dowdy and lonely female with real feeling that masked the fact that she and Ledger have a relationship in real life. I could take or leave Anne Hathaway’s performance though as Jake’s wife, maybe because I just could not get rid of the image of her as a clumsy teenage princess.

My problems with this film have also been echoed by other critics and filmgoers. For one thing, their relationship, although intense, didn’t show the extent of their love for one another until the very end. Instead there are many violent scenes demonstrating an unhealthy relationship rather than a loving one. Yes, I know it was the ’60s and neither of them were out of the closet and working in a very homophobic line of work, but still it would have been nice to have seen their feelings expressed other than with their fists. My next and last complaint is that although the story itself is far from boring, it was very slow, causing me to feel bored and frustrated with the inaction, but then my feelings were mirroring Jake Gyllenhaal’s character’s emotions, so perhaps that was its intent.

One more thing was that I wish the time period was actually mentioned in the film instead of leaving me guessing, especially since the minimal societal settings made it harder to figure out just when the story is supposed to take place, especially since the years keep passing by as the narrative unfolds.

The story is filmed in a very epic style with breathtaking scenic shots reminiscent of big studio epics from the past and John Ford cinematography. The beautiful scenes are best viewed in the DVD’s widescreen edition.

There are quite a lot of special features on the DVD without it being labeled a special edition. I was disappointed that there wasn’t a commentary by Ang Lee, especially since he was nominated for Best Director. Still there are a decent number of featurettes to satisfy fans.

Features include:

  • Becoming a Cowboy: This featurette shows how stars Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Anne Hathaway practiced becoming cowboys, riding horses and looking authentic in their rustic roles. We see the actors riding horses, roping cattle, doing rodeo etc., plus interviews from the trainers and actors regarding this undertaking of preparing for the film.
  • Directing from the Heart: Although Ang Lee doesn’t provide an audio commentary, this feature provides a detailed commentary on his directing with behind-the-scenes footage.
  • Sharing the Story: The Making of Brokeback Mountain – This other feature section follows the filmmaking process form start to finish. Here we get to meet more of the cast and crew in in-depth interviews, behind-the-scenes clips.
  • From Script to Screen: Interviews with Larry McMurty & Diana Ossana – The writers discuss bringing the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Proulx’s visionary short story to the screen and adapting it into a full length film. This is especially interesting given Larry McMurty’s own writing acclaim, which includes the western story Lonesome Dove.

The Upside:
A beautifully filmed and directed epic that is well acted and subtly thought provoking.
The Downside:
Slow moving, minimal dialogue and frustrating outcome and situation.
On the Side:
Won three Academy Awards including Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score.

Breaking Down the DVD:
The Film: A-
The Delivery: A+
The Extras: B+
Overall Grade: A-

DVD Stats:
Release Date: April 4th, 2006
Starring: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Michelle Williams
Directed by: Ang Lee
Writing Credits: E. Annie Proulx (short story) Larry McMurtry, Diana Ossana (screenplay)
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Sound Mix: Dolby Digital
MPAA: Rated R for sexuality, nudity, language and some violence.
Country: USA
Run Time: 134 min.
Studio: Universal (official site)
Trailer

By Tara Settembre, Staff Writer for Film School Rejects

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  • Ryebread

    Never did see or hear about the break in the mountain. Figured it is just another volcanogenic type movie, just a different twist. Did recall the movie Mountgay with David Wanadou and James Recttehimer, a British actor. Filmed in Utah, 1987. Watched it Monday on Turner Gaylasits. Unlike this new movie version which the NY Times gave it a xxx rateing, I decided not to take the wife and kid’s. Went to see King Kong instead. Good thing Kong was not in San-Fran or some Muslim country. You would not want that big sucker behind you when you bend over.
    Maybe I will see the Breakup Hill. Could give me more understanding of volcan culture.

  • http://gratefuldread.net NR Davis

    Another Film School Rejects Brokeback Mountain review that leaves me with the feeling that the critic and I saw different films.

    I saw the movie in the theater and viewed the DVD this morning. So the following statements alarm me:

    “… their relationship, although intense, didn’t show the extent of their love for one another until the very end. Instead there are many violent scenes demonstrating an unhealthy relationship rather than a loving one. Yes, I know it was the ’60s and neither of them were out of the closet and working in a very homophobic line of work, but still it would have been nice to have seen their feelings expressed other than with their fists.”

    Did you close your eyes during scenes where they wrestled in fun? The *obviously* in love pair was bonding in the way that stereotypically masculine, macho types do. How about scenes where Jack held Ennis and caressed his face? How about ones where Ennis held Jack in loving, not violent, embraces? How about both men’s terrible reactions to the mere goodbyes? How about the emptiness in their eyes as they moved through the motions of their “marriages?” How about those kisses – initiated by both of the lovers: They were more than kisses communicating physical passion, they were messages of love and longing. Of course desire is part of the equation, but the film gave clear signs from the beginning that this was the Real Thing. If you couldn’t see the love in the primary loving relationship in the film (there are other examples of different types of love shown: Ennis and his girls, Alma and her girls, brief flashes between Mr. Newsome and his grandson, Alma and Monroe [apparent from the first time we meet Scott Michael Campbell’s character in the market], Alma Jr. and Kurt (she tells her dad her intended loves her), Cassie’s blatantly stated unrequited yen for Ennis), I can conclude only that you closed your eyes (for whatever reason) or you simply can’t recognize love between two men. Not a judgment, merely my observation after reading FSR’s reviews of the theatrical release and the DVD.

    “I wish the time period was actually mentioned in the film instead of leaving me guessing, especially since the minimal societal settings made it harder to figure out just when the story is supposed to take place, especially since the years keep passing by as the narrative unfolds.”

    Um, did you catch the blatant caption saying 1963 at the beginning? How about the moment in the film where the Brokeback “awakening” is over: We see Ennis and Alma in various slices of life, including the news that they have borne two little girls. We get an audible notice: It’s four years later (1969) when Jack and Ennis reunite in Riverton. When the reunion scenes are over, we see a few more scenes from the lives of Alma and Ennis and Jack and Lurleen. When the narrative stablizes, we are told: It’s 1975. The rest flows until Jack and Ennis have what is to be their final rendezvous – the “quit you” scene, where Jack complains that their *20 years together* have been so hard to bear because of missing his true love so much. All the time references are there; all one has to do is keep eyes and ears open and pay attention.

  • Susan

    Maybe the people that go to the film school have never been in love???? Have any of them had the intensity of a same sex relationship?? If you haven’t been there, don’t knock it. Their relationship was very intense. The grade for the movie was an A+.

  • http://absent-mind.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    I agree NR and Susan. As I say in my own reviews, the film revolves around one line that Jack speaks near the end of the film. “Sometimes I miss you so much I can hardly stand it.”