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Universal Studios Home Video presents
Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Ennis: If you can't fix it, Jack, you gotta stand it.
Jack: For how long?
Ennis: As long as we can ride it. There ain't no reins on this one.

- Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: April 17, 2006

Stars: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal
Other Stars: Linda Cardellini, Anna Faris, Anne Hathaway, Michelle Williams, Randy Quaid
Director: Ang Lee

Manufacturer: Deluxe Digital Studios
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality, nudity, language, and some violence
Run Time: 02h:14m:19s
Release Date: April 04, 2006
UPC: 025192631528
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

You've heard the late-night jokes by Letterman and Leno, and laughed at the internet parodies, but if you haven't actually seen Brokeback Mountain, you're cheating yourself out of one of the most profound and moving cinematic experiences in recent memory. Ang Lee's epic romance transcends its "gay cowboy" label as it bravely depicts a raw, abiding love with beauty, sensitivity, and, most of all, truth. Whether you're homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, or asexual, Brokeback Mountain speaks volumes about relationships, commitment, and all the crap we have to wade through just to express affection toward one we hold dear. Sure, the gay angle adds depth, controversy, and some taboo titillation, but the emotions that pervade Annie Proulx's story are heartbreakingly universal, and Lee and screenwriters Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry honor them with pride and grace.

Thrown together by fate, drawn together by need, and ultimately bound together by the honest, pure love they share, Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) are kindred spirits—poor, soft-spoken, marginally educated, and bruised by tough breaks. The two young ranch hands meet outside the trailer of gruff Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid), who hires them to herd sheep and tend camp on Wyoming's Brokeback Mountain in the summer of 1963. Alone in the wilderness, with only the sheep and a few bottles of whiskey to keep them company, the men forge a friendship, awkwardly sharing fragments of their lives and personalities over their evening grub. One frigid night, while huddling together for warmth in a pup tent, a spark ignites between them, and they act on it. Both later deny any "queer" tendencies, but can't repress the aching need that begins to consume them. "It's nobody's business but ours," Jack says, and they spend the summer indulging their desire and unwittingly falling in love.

Come autumn, the men part, and begin an arduous struggle to live by society's stringent sexual rules and achieve its traditional domestic ideals. Ennis quickly marries his long-time sweetheart, Alma (Michelle Williams), and, just as quickly, they produce two baby girls. Jack returns to the rodeo world, riding broncos and bouncing around Texas until he meets saucy Lureen Newsome (Anne Hathaway), a top-flight barrel rider whose filthy rich daddy owns a successful farm machinery business. A one-night stand leads to a baby, marriage, and cushy suburban life, but Jack remains haunted by the memory of Ennis. Four years after their summer on Brokeback, he drops Ennis a postcard, which leads to a reunion and a passionate resumption of their affair. Of course, time, place, and circumstance make a lasting union impossible, so over the next two decades, they meet in secret, stealing weekends up on Brokeback a couple of times a year. Ennis can handle the lengthy separations, but Jack wants more, and bit by bit their unfulfilled dreams and frustrated longings gradually rip their lives apart.

Loving a person instead of a gender; choosing who we love because of who they are—that's what Brokeback Mountain is about. If Ennis hadn't met Jack, would he ever have discovered his homosexual side? Would the idea of homosexuality ever have occurred to him? Probably not. He falls in love with Jack, not because he's the only hot guy within a 50-mile radius, but because he feels a connection, a kinship, and hard as he tries over the course of his life, he can't find that with any other person—woman or man. Brokeback Mountain scares people because it dares to blur the comfortable, protective sexual boundaries around which we construct our lives, and shows how easily we can be swayed and changed by love. Think about it. How many close male friends might innocently become lovers if that rigid societal line didn't exist, if discrimination and disapproval wasn't rampant, and if the label of gay, queer, pansy, and faggot wasn't waiting to engulf and possibly destroy their lives? A few? Millions? Who knows? But up on Brokeback Mountain, that line didn't exist, and look what happened.

Lee's film, however, doesn't address such issues. In fact, it admirably and purposely steers clear of them, leaving the preaching to reviewers like me. The director simply tells his tale in a straightforward manner, without judgment or bias, and it's all the more powerful as a result. The catchline, "Love is a force of nature," has become a bit of a cliché, but Lee marvelously employs the majestic western scenery to illustrate the earthy, elemental spirit of Ennis and Jack's liaison. The sweep of mountains, valleys, and pastures mirrors the depth of feeling the two men share, and like nature, their love cannot conform to society's narrow view of what it should or should not be. Other critics have harped on the film's length and pacing, but I wouldn't change a frame. We get to know Jack and Ennis as they get to know each other—slowly, cautiously. And, over time, we commune with the mountain as they do, feeling its sanctity and desolation—qualities that ironically will soon define their troubled relationship.

Some say Brokeback Mountain plays it too safe—especially in its love scenes—but I disagree. Producing a gay love story is one thing, but messing with a revered masculine symbol like the cowboy is another altogether. Macho Marlboro men are supposed to be immune to homosexuality, but Brokeback Mountain knocks those icons off their high horses and proves they can be just as vulnerable as anyone else. Contrary to popular belief—even in 2006—it is possible to be both virile and gay. To many, such an idea is elementary; to others, anathema, but Brokeback Mountain boldly presents it in living color and with dignity and compassion. Lee, Ledger, and Gyllenhaal make it surprisingly easy to drop any pre-conceived notions and prejudices, and surrender to the story on screen. After their initial animalistic coupling, the humanity of Jack and Ennis takes over the film; their relationship absorbs us, and like the most homogenized heterosexual couple, we root for them to find their place in the sun and beat back a culture hell-bent on vanquishing their bond.

Is the affair easier to accept because the two leads possess cover-boy looks? Of course. But if Brokeback Mountain needs hunks like Ledger and Gyllenhaal to make its point and attract a wide audience, so be it. Both actors look nothing like the characters in Proulx's story, but they slip into their skin like it was their own. Ledger paints a superb portrait of the tightly wound, hot-tempered, yet painfully sensitive Ennis, a man tortured and confused by his emotions but unable to express them. Gyllenhaal, with his liquid eyes and disarming smile, is equally effective as the ever-optimistic Jack, a romantic dreamer who foolishly believes somehow love can conquer all, even in the unforgiving and intolerant West. As the women in their lives, Williams, Hathaway (in a refreshing change-of-pace role), and Linda Cardellini each in their own way try to crack the riddle of Ennis and Jack, but remain baffled. All three, under Lee's supreme guidance, contribute natural, compelling performances.

Many cried foul when Brokeback Mountain lost the Oscar to Crash, citing, among other things, homophobia as the reason for its defeat. Although the Best Picture stamp would have certainly validated gay-themed films—and carries more weight than the director and screenplay Oscars Brokeback took home—the movie doesn't need a symbolic seal of approval from an uptight institution like the Academy. Thankfully, well-crafted, textured, affecting, and relevant films aren't easily forgotten. Like the rugged western landscape and spirit of true love, Brokeback Mountain will endure.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Brokeback Mountain looked awfully good in theaters, but it's a spectacular visual experience on DVD. With a crisp, lush, spotless transfer, the breathtaking beauty of Rodrigo Prieto's cinematography bursts forth, flooding the screen with a blaze of rich color and stunning contrast. The azure sky (digitally enhanced though it may be), verdant fields, crystal clear water, and jagged, snow-capped peaks are all so vivid and striking, it's often difficult to resist the impulse to freeze selected images. Even actors as attractive as Ledger, Gyllenhaal, Hathaway, and Williams pale in comparison, yet their all-important close-ups crackle with clarity, allowing us to interpret and analyze every glint, twitch, scowl, and smirk. Even scenes shot in low light or in stark surroundings sport a marvelous luster that keeps our eye engaged. Solid, deep blacks and natural fleshtones top off this exceptional effort from Universal.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The DD 5.1 track is both robust and subtle, exhilarating and maddening. It exquisitely caresses the nuances of Gustavo Santaolalla's simple yet majestic Oscar-winning score and such wispy natural accents as gentle breezes and bubbling brooks, but often obscures the soft-spoken dialogue. Ledger's mumbling doesn't help, but conversations that were easily comprehendible in the theater are often unintelligible at home. Surround activity is light, but blends well into the track's whole, and a thunderstorm provides a hefty sonic jolt that will easily wake the kids. Accents such as horse hooves and footsteps are distinctly rendered, and no surface noise disrupts the many moments of serene pastoral quiet.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Pride and Prejudice, On A Clear Day, Something New
1 Documentaries
3 Featurette(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 01h:24m:56s

Extras Review: Surprisingly, only a few supplements enhance the disc, which leads one to believe a two-disc collector's edition can't be far behind. The six-minute featurette, On Being a Cowboy, kicks things off, and focuses on stunt coordinator Kirk Jarrett, who outlines the rigorous training the actors underwent in order to believably inhabit their roles. Ledger, Gyllenhaal, and Hathaway all attended "cowboy boot camp," where they were taught how to ride horses, herd sheep, and live in the wilderness. Though Ledger was quite comfortable on a horse, director Ang Lee admits Gyllenhaal needed to be roughed up a bit to make a credible cowhand. Hathaway learned how to barrel race, but the inherent danger of the sport made employing a stunt double a necessity.

Directing from the Heart: Ang Lee runs seven-and-a-half minutes, and allows the cast and crew the opportunity to effusively praise the Oscar-winning director. Gyllenhaal believes Lee was the only artist who could take Brokeback Mountain to a "metaphysical level," while Ledger cites Lee's "microscopic" attention to detail. The director himself discusses how he likes to examine humanity through conflict, and how he cut short an extended period of rest in order to tackle this important, multi-layered project.

From Script to Screen: Interviews with Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana examines the challenges the writers faced in bringing Annie Proulx's short story to life. The pair talks about their novelistic approach to Brokeback Mountain, and how the movie is connected to but different from the typical western. McMurtry claims virtually every sentence of the original story is used in the screenplay, but the heftiest creative task was fleshing out the domestic lives of Jack and Ennis. Comments from Ledger (who cites Brokeback as the best screenplay he's ever read), Gyllenhaal, Lee, Randy Quaid, and others augment this insightful 11-minute piece.

Finally, Sharing the Story: The Making of Brokeback Mountain takes a traditional behind-the-scenes tack in chronicling the film's production history. The slick, somewhat shallow 20-minute documentary (an installment of the Logo Movie Special series) allows the actors to discuss their relationships on camera and off, delineate their physical and dialect training, and talk about the hardships of location shooting. Ledger and Gyllenhaal open up about their controversial love scenes, and Lee recalls his futile attempts to control the herds of sheep used in the film. As expected, everyone involved expresses sincere reverence for the project, but the documentary's glossy presentation detracts from the serious, emotional nature of Brokeback Mountain.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Brokeback Mountain is a rich, rewarding tapestry that gains even more power and impact on the intimate home screen. Universal's exceptional transfer preserves the film's scope, but more deeply immerses us in this gut-wrenching story of forbidden love. With a sure hand and probing eye, director Ang Lee paints a masterful portrait of desire and devotion, while Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal beautifully embody the anguished cowboys forever trapped and thwarted by the secret they share. Brokeback Mountain is, without question, a great film, one that deserves to be seen for what it is and, more importantly, what it says. Highly recommended.


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