Starring: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, Randy Quaid, Linda Cardellini, Kate Mara
Director: Ang Lee
Summary: The story of a forbidden and secretive relationship between two cowboys over a period of 20 years
Other Nominations: Director*, Actor (Ledger), Supporting Actor (Gyllenhaal), Supporting Actress (Williams), Adapted Screenplay*, Original Score*, Cinematography
Back in the day, Brokeback Mountain was fairly groundbreaking and extensively talked about, as it was one of the first mainstream American films to focus not just on gay characters, but on a gay relationship in a respectful way. So with the benefit of the passage of time to distance myself from the fervor, I have to say that it still holds up on its own merits really well.
What strikes me about the movie are the choices they made. It’s easy to make a “star-crossed lovers” story about two gay men whose love was doomed by societal norms; it’s more interesting though to make a story about how that kind of relationship isn’t just tragic for those directly involved, but also how sad it is for the women they’re married to, who will never be the true object of desire for their husbands. In many ways, the women come off as more sympathetic than their husbands a lot of the time, especially in the case of Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams-making the gay/bisexual(?) characters as flawed, often unlikeable and human as they did is a bold choice that elevates the story from merely a tragedy into something that is often times exceptional. The other choice that lept out to me was one that says a lot about Hollywood and the MPAA operates: that a movie about two cowboys in a gay relationship only has female nudity; male nudity has always been treated differently than female nudity in film (in terms of MPAA ratings and it reminded me of a lot of things they talk about in the documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated (which I recommend).
Besides that, the performances are what makes the film really shine, specifically those from Ledger and Williams. For the latter, I don’t really have much more to say other than that Williams is good in everything and she is again here with an effective and subdued performance. Ledger unfortunately mumbles to the point where, before I got used to it, I considered putting on CC-he sounds like Boomhauer from King of the Hill. However, ignoring that his facial expressions and body language throughout are brilliant and he would have been my choice for Best Actor over Philip Seymour Hoffman.
As for what didn’t work for me, there are a couple of things. First, I liked how they slow-played the relationship for the first 30 minutes (which makes sense considering the people involved, the time and the place), but then the relationship goes from 0-100 in an instant without enough of a real buildup for me. Second, the middle third drags a bit and got dull at times. Still, this is a really solid piece of filmmaking that held up to the hype.