Either you have an interest in watching a movie like “Brokeback Mountain” or you don’t. If you fall in the latter camp, there are plenty of other movies for you to watch, and I suppose you can take some comfort from the fact that it didn’t win the Best Picture Oscar, thus fulfilling one of the requirements for Armageddon.
Having yet to view “Crash” as I write this review, I can’t speak to the post-Oscars controversy. However, I will say that if you’re willing to approach this film with an open mind, I’m willing to bet you’ll consider it one of the finest movies released in 2005. I think it’s destined to be a classic—the lackluster extras on the DVD kept this release from earning 4.5 stars, in my view. (I typically knock half a star off a DVD if I don’t think the bonus features are up to par.) But more on that in a minute.
“Brokeback Mountain” is a sweeping film that opens in 1963 and carries us into the 1970s as we follow the lives of Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist, a pair of secretly gay men who meet one summer while working as sheepherders. Jack initiates an intimate relationship and the fallout from that event cascades through the years, knocking over anyone in its way and ultimately resulting in a tragic end.
As director Ang Lee and others point out in the supplemental materials, this is really a love story at its heart, a movie about two people (forget about gender and focus on the human beings here) trying to connect in circumstances that aren’t hospitable to their relationship. In that way, how is it any different from, say, “Romeo and Juliet”? Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal both turn in wonderful performances as the laconic Ennis and the gregarious Jack, respectively. They’re very different men, but they complete each other, as the cliché goes.
Anne Hathaway and Michelle Williams also put in fine work as Jack and Ennis’ spouses, Williams in particular wrenching our hearts as her character, Alma, learns about Ennis’ secret and must live in shame and despair until she can’t take it anymore. Like I said, this is a tragic film, one in which we’re dealing with flawed characters who don’t always make the best decisions. Anyone who thinks this movie is attempting to move forward some kind of “gay agenda” should actually watch it first. Let me put it this way: you won’t see Jack and Ennis strutting in a gay pride parade anytime during it.
Moving on to the DVD itself, I was disappointed in the lack of a commentary. Clearly this film needs some discussion by not only Lee but also screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana and perhaps even Annie Proulx, who wrote the original short story on which it was based. I’m sure a more elaborate Special Edition is in the works—hopefully it will contain those tracks as well as a copy of Proulx’s work, so that those of us who enjoy examining the creative process can compare and contrast her story with the script.
Oddly, the film’s trailer isn’t found on this disc, either. We’re left with four bonus features: “On Being a Cowboy” (just under 6 minutes), “Directing From the Heart: Ang Lee” (just over 7 minutes), “From Script to Screen: Interviews With Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana” (almost 11 minutes), and “Sharing the Story: The Making of Brokeback Mountain” (almost 21 minutes).
The first one, as you’d imagine, covers the preparation the actors went through so they could realistically portray people familiar with horseback riding and living in rugged terrain. And you can probably guess that the second one is full of enthusiastic praise for Lee. I agree he’s a great director, but in light of “Hulk,” I think he’s better off sticking with movies like this or “The Ice Storm.”
The last two bonus features dig a bit deeper into the making of this film, hinting at the kind of full-scale documentary that will hopefully be included on a feature DVD release. The McMurtry and Ossana interviews in particular shed some light on the movie’s genesis, but Proulx’s absence figures prominently. Like the other extras on this disc, “From Script to Screen” has the feel of a rush job hastily put together so that the DVD release could build off the Oscar hype. Personally, I always enjoy hearing what the principals involved in a great movie think a year or two down the line, once they’ve had time to process everything. I’d imagine the Oscar controversy, for example, will be covered on a future DVD. It has to be addressed, considering this film’s legacy.
Finally, “Sharing the Story” is actually a promotional piece put together for Logo, the gay-themed network launched by MTV. It retreads some of the territory covered by the other features, and mostly it’s a “rah, rah, go team” kind of featurette, but I suppose it’s better than nothing. It’s worth watching, at least.
If you can wait, my advice is to hold off for the inevitable two-disc set that will hopefully be well worth the money when it arrives. In the meantime, you can always rent this one, which I heartily recommend to anyone who hasn’t seen the film yet. And to the naysayers: We’ve heard you. Over and over again. Give it a rest, please.