Love and loss amongst the saddle set
The bigger sin would be the glacial pace the film opens with. Establishing the lonely existence Jack (Jake Gyllehaal) and Ennis (Heath Ledger) live is important in creating a foundation for the relationship that develops between these two cowboys. It takes some severe patience for one to wait out the establishing sequences, which feature some excellent and beautiful photography, but not a lot of action, placing the two main characters amongst the wonders of nature. But once you're in Jack and Ennis' world, one can just experience the way their lives unfold, and the course that their love follows.
I'm not going to pretend that I understand exactly what it is that powers the relationship between Jack and Ennis, but Gyllenhaal and Ledger make it work and make it believable, even when it runs into some reality pitfalls. Ledger plays his part grim and gritty, a conflicted man who doesn't quite understand why he feels the way he does, but doesn't deny it to himself. Gyllenhaal, on the other hand, embraces the possibilities of his new-found feelings, oblivious to what consequences might await him. Together, they make up a star-crossed couple that would be relatively easy to root for, if it wasn't for the presence of Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway.
Playing the wives of Ennis and Jack, respectively, they give a very human face to the concept of marital betrayal. Williams' tortured performance as a loving wife and concerned mother, in particular, makes it difficult to wish the guys the best, as she suffers for their happiness. It's an awful way to live and a life she certainly doesn't deserve. Being female in this film is almost a guarantee of trouble, as well as a quality performance, as Hathaway, in a more career-redefining role than her part in Havoc, and Linda Cardellini ("Freaks & Geeks") prove.
As the movie progressed, my one problem with the plot was my inability to grasp exactly what it was at core of the guys' emotional conflicts. One could say that they were just struggling with the predetermined roles society wanted them to fit in, but, at least in Ennis' case, he seems to be able to be "happy" with anyone, which of course is likely just an extension of his external denials of his feelings. The change in their relationship over time though, and two scenes in which everything is laid out, plain as day, helped answer those questions, and made the entire experience more satisfying. Ironically, the one question I left the movie with is whether Jack and Ennis actually are gay or soulmates or both.
Though the pacing remains methodical throughout the film (just not as slow as the beginning), the film moves well though its two-plus hours, thanks to a script that avoids stagnating in one spot, Ang Lee's direction, which is measured, yet heart-felt, and stunning cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto. The layering of emotion in Brokeback Mountain required a director who could help his actors play two characters, essentially, the stereotype and the person. There's not an actor here who fails at that, and Lee, who won the Oscar for this job, is a big reason for that. The end result is a movie that explores emotion and the actions it causes, good and bad, but very real.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio in this film is somewhat staid, spiking with the occasional gunfire or storm, but mainly being made up of well-recorded dialogue, score and source music. Some well-mixed atmospheric sound effects help enhance the track, which does a good job, but doesn't and doesn't have to overwhelm.
"Directing from the Heart: Ang Lee" spends over seven minutes looking at the Academy Award-winner for Best Director. As expected, there's a good deal of apple polishing, as the cast and crew heap praise on Lee. The winners for Best Adapted Screenplay, Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, get their props as well, in the 11-minute "From Script to Screen," which follows the same plot.
The extras conclude with "Sharing the Story: The Making of Brokeback Mountain," which is actually a renaming of a movie special that aired on the Logo network. At almost 21 minutes, it's the most substantial extra, but it's also the glossiest of the bunch, having been created as a promo piece. A good deal of the movie is revealed here, so make sure to watch it after the movie.
The Bottom Line