January 13, 2006

Brokeback Mountain

There are very few movies that I have ever seen that, as soon as the credits rolled, I wanted to watch all over again, immediately. Brokeback Mountain is such a movie.

I would not call Brokeback the best film of the year—Gegen Die Wand belongs in that spot, I think—nor even the best American film—A History of Violence takes that position. Brokeback drags occasionally, but I think that's because it is paced more like an Asian film—there is a certain similarity to Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love, or more so, to Happy Together—rather than something like The Notebook or some other Hollywood tragedy/melodrama.

Honestly, I was expecting a very, very good melodrama when I walked in the theater. So when I walked out, I was a little puzzled, a little thrown off-balance. But I knew one thing for sure. I wish I knew the characters better—all of them, but particularly Ennis Del Mar, Heath Ledger's character. Heath Ledger gives the best performance of the decade, if not more. Ledger creates a Marlboro Man with an infinite depth; every twitch of his mouth, every narrowing of his eyes has an entire world of emotions, thoughts, associations behind it. This is the most complete character work I have ever seen. And I do not think it is too hyperbolic to say that not since Brando has a male actor been this quietly powerful. Ledger is a marvel, and if he were the only good part of the film, I would still count it one of the best of the year.

But there is a lot more to appreciate. Jake Gyllenhaal gives a great performance, but is unavoidably overshadowed by Ledger. Anne Hathaway plays deliciously against type, a Texan rodeo star who can't keep her shirt on, her mouth off a cigarette, or her hair from ridiculousness. Michelle Williams is not called on for much, but two moments in particular—in bed with Ledger and immediately after observing Ledger and Gyllenhaal kissing—are among the more moving seconds in the film. Then there is the cinematography. I think it is Montana that is called the Big Sky State, but Wyoming's expansiveness is nonpareil. This film is shot gorgeously.

But it is really the characters that made me want to watch it over again. I simply did not want to leave Ennis, but I also wanted to observe all the characters more, try to figure out more, learn more about them, simply watch them interact. Brokeback Mountain is over two hours long, but, like a really good novel, there will never be enough pages or minutes of film to contain the complexities you can observe in a single paragraph or a single close-up in just one character's face. I wish I knew the characters in Brokeback, or at the very least, I wish I could just watch them some more.

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