Title: Brokeback Mountain
Screen format: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Year first released: 2005
DVD released: 4/4/2006
Director: Ang Lee
Starring: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal
Sound Formats: English & French Dolby Digital 5.1
Length: 2 Hours 15 minutes
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
In the summer of 1963, sheepherders Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) and Jack Twist (Gyllenhaal) begin a homosexual relationship that spans their next twenty years. Each struggles to fit this secret affair into their family life, careers and other accomplishments. They battle the stigma society places on this kind of relationship, and ultimately have to deal with their own beliefs regarding this forbidden love.
Action Factor: 2/5
Not surprisingly, the action is very minimal in this film. There are isolated points of activity dealing with the sheepherding lifestyle and a few rodeo scenes, but for the most part this film celebrates the laconic, thoughtful life of simple (and poor) country folk.
Surround sound & music: 2.5/5
The musical score was a good fit for the story: slow, deliberate, and a little haunting. There were very few moments I ever noticed life in the surrounds. One storm scene has some effects in the rears, but even the rodeo scenes lacked much surround activity. Bass performance was likewise minimal, almost nonexistent. The dialogue is notably muddied at times, however this is likely a factor of the southern drawl combined with shy characters rather than any real deficiency in the soundtrack.
Visuals Effects & Video Quality: 3/5
There were no notable effects scenes in this movie, any that were present were well hidden. While the cinematography is breathtaking, the palette of this film is somewhat muted. I feel that the overall look of the movie loses a little impact because of the minimal saturation, but it does match the emotional ‘feel’ of the plot. I did not notice any significant edge enhancement. Grain however is notable in many scenes, especially in the skies, which was sometimes distracting.
Both Ledger and Gyllenhaal hold up admirably dealing with this tough issue, turning in brave performances. Both believably mimic the mannerisms and accents of their characters, which is notable for the fact that Ledger is Australian and Gyllenhaal was born in Los Angeles. Much of their performance is silent, relying on facial expressions to convey sadness, frustration, anger and confusion. The strong supporting cast includes Randy Quaid as their boss Joe Aguirre and a knockout performance by Michelle Williams as Alma Del Mar, the spouse who catches on to Ennis.
Extra Features: 3/5
While not a treasure trove of special features, this “Four Star” collection edition does include 4 solid featurettes. ‘Directing from the Heart’ profiles Lee’s involvement with the progress of this film from short story form to his vision on screen. ‘From Script to Screen’ consists of interviews with script writers Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana on their choices in adapting Annie Proulx’s short story. ‘Sharing the Story’ is a behind the scenes look at the making of the film, including interviews with the cast, crew and producers. ‘On being a cowboy’ looks at the lifestyles of sheepherders and rodeo cowboys, and interviews the experts who trained Ledger and Gyllenhaal in preparation for this film. There are no trailers or commentary tracks on this edition.
Overall: 4/5 (not an average)
Brokeback Mountain wound up taking home three Academy Awards: Best Director for Lee, Best Score for Gustovo Santaolalla, and Best Adapted Screenplay, for McMurtry and Ossana. It was nominated for five more, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Ledger),
Best Supporting Actor (Gyllenhaal), Best Supporting Actress (Williams), and Best Cinematography. It won 60 other awards and was nominated for a further 41.
Despite all of these accolades, it is a hard movie to digest for a lot of viewers, many of whom are not used to confronting its central issue so directly. Brokeback asks its audience to put themselves in the shoes of its characters, and to think about how they would react if they found themselves in love with someone of the same sex. While it celebrates the power of love to overcome so many complications, the somber tone and tragic end of the story echo the grave reality: this is a tough situation to be in and a hard life to lead.
While it is not practical to wonder if this movie would have been quite so successful had it dealt with a different central issue, the temptation is there. The pace and tone of this film are definitely atypical of what works for mainstream audiences. Perhaps its greatest success comes in just getting people talking and thinking about the issues.
Ultimately I was left with mixed feelings on this movie. As a character study it certainly is one of the most honest and compellingly human pictures I have seen. Artistically, the look and tone of film are truly unique and complement the subject matter entirely. In the end, it is not a movie I truly loved and want to see again multiple times, but it is a fine artistic film with a strong message, and gives viewers a lot to think about in their own lives, perhaps even too much.