Saturday, 21 April 2012

Best Supporting Actor 2005: Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain

Jake Gyllenhaal received his first Oscar nomination for portraying Jack Twist in Brokeback Mountain.

Jake Gyllenhaal really is co-lead with Heath Ledger in this film. It tells the story of both men and he should have been in the lead category. It seem though we will never have two nominees from the same film in lead category as if there is any reason to put them in supporting they will, in this case I would say what landed Gyllenhaal in supporting is Ledger gets to reflect at the end where Gyllenhall does not. Nevertheless his role does have just as much importance as Ledger's as it follows both Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar through both their own relationship together and what they do when they are apart.

Watching the film again I must say I was quite disappointed by Gyllenhaal's performance as Jack Twist early in the film when Jack and Ennis first are given their job shepherding. Early on when Jack is rather aggressively trying to pursue a relationship with Ennis, while Ennis is rather confused about it. Gyllenhaal almost tries to be too stoic in the role as Jack early on. He wants to make him a man who is all about what lies beneath, but really is conveying of what lies beneath is a bit lacking early on. Frankly for these early scenes Ledger consistently stays far more interesting and effective than Gyllenhaal who seems a little confused on how to portray his character at first.

I say confused because in between his moments of stoicism he throws in some moments of rather wild extroversion. This could be taken as a more wild of a man on the inside of stoicism, but it never plays this way. There is a most certainly a disconnect in these moments and Gyllenhaal really does not meld them together in an effective fashion. He does not really find exactly the way he should portray Jack, he tries several different ways to try to find his way for Jack but none of them really work here. Also except for a few longing looks Gyllenhaal frankly could have done much more to really show that to Jack that his relationship with Ennis must happen, but Gyllenhaal does not find the right way to get it across.

After these shaky early scenes, actually more of the early half of the picture Gyllenhaal finds his ways with Jack Twist after Jack has gotten married himself into to a life that he hates. Gyllenhaal does become effective when he brings out the bitterness in Jack over his life. In his married life scenes Gyllenhaal effectively conveys the facade his character puts on at all times. Gyllenhaal though shows that really Jack is not the best at it showing a constant anger that is always clearly underneath from his frustrations over never getting what he really wants. Gyllenhaal always shows a constant pain within Jack during these scenes even when the occasion should be pleasant there is always an unpleasantness in Jack.

The pivotal moments of his performance are with Heath Ledger though. There later scenes are very well handled by both actors as they find the right sort of dynamic between the two. Although these scenes certainly can be categorized as romantic they are defined as the problems between the two as much as the love between them. With Ennis more of confused by the whole matter, and completely unsure of what to do exactly, where as Gyllenhaal shows a passion in Jack that desperately wants them to be together always, and with that there is always a bitterness in Gyllenhaal portrayal over just the pain Jack feels whenever he is not with Ennis frankly.

The path of his character really is a negative one. Where Ledger's Ennis moves further and further to try to understand the relationship all Jack does is become increasingly tired, and almost hate filled over not getting what he wants. Gyllenhaal is quite strong in showing this path of Jack's as he slowly moves along it through almost the entire film. Gyllenhaal shows it something that takes time but does make Jack into far less of a man than his former self, into a brooding and almost cold man in some regards. This transformation is what really makes his performance. This is not a perfect performance by any means it is far too shaky early on, but Gyllenhaal does create a compelling character in the end.


dinasztie said...

Ledger acted circles around him but Gyllenhaal was also quite great. :)

Styx said...

Hope 2006 is next !

Boettcher said...

Hope 2006 is next !

Anonymous said...

I am quite surprised by your reading of the early setup of Jack Twist. To me Gyllenhaal does not stand out easily because he mostly performed in relation to Ledger, or their dynamic. His performance is not self-contained at all (which is the entire basis of Ledger's central thesis as character: a fortress-like self-repression, such that his great ideas via method acting approach got a great showcase through the role.) You interpreted a poor balance between vacuous stoicism and unearned "wild extroversion". Try to view these not as stand-alone moments poorly connected to each other, rather than Jack constantly groping (metaphorically) for a handle on how tightly Ennis holds onto his repression. It is like the dynamics of cruising in public and trying not to be caught, except dramatized here - where there are no heterosexual gaze watching (except Quaid showing up rarely), but that gaze is *internalized*. Gyllenhaal's stoicism is a facade, because his body language really doubles as an unspoken yet obviously alluring presence to Ledger's character, or it is meant for him only. Thus his "extrovert" outbursts are meant to spark a jolt in the silence that Ennis is otherwise happy to passively continue. It is an awkward dance of courtship between a proudly impenetrable bull (Ledger) and the other who must attract the bull, is born to attract him ("love of their lives" premise), and rather loses his "bull" cred because the "authentically macho" bull can't overcome the denial Gyllenhaal isn't a "cow". As you see it is not a conventional narrative of masculinity with neither the typical continuity or momentum of "unraveling" as expected. You did not point out the numerous nuances of how Gyllenhaal juggled an imperfect persuasiveness as a married man who gained an elevated social status under a homophobic father-in-law, and the many subtle behavior of passing on a daily basis. His relations to a wife (platonic affection wrapped around resentment that's only cooled to minor irritation), is far more complex than the heated, more dramatic show of betrayal-horror between Ledger and Williams. Internalized homophobia gets a rousing, towering showcase by Ledger's performance, and it is one even non-gays can recognize because the fear of ostracization, public shaming and unjust ~lynching are universal. But the daily reality of passing, of frustrated existence of self-acceptance that is ultimately meaningless without full societal acceptance, is greatly captured in Gyllenhaal's far more thankless role (one without award-baity peaks vs. valleys, except in relation to Ledger character's effect on his.)

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the lack of formatting above, I just realized.

But to further my point, it was striking to me, that in an 2011 interview about his romance movie of a Male-to-Female transsexual and a woman, Xavier Dolan singled out Gyllenhaal's performance as "extraordinary".

While even the blind can see Ledger was brimming with talent and brilliant ideas (that he arguably got a solid handle on at earlier age than Gyllenhaal, whose latest work seem to burn with more intensity and fearlessness absent in his 20s), it's easy to see Ledger apply ~elsewhere, the "crushing fears of crumbling masculinity" in his pivotal scenes (nevermind that his powerful coda with the shirts gain emotional mileage because of the magical chemistry he shared with Gyllenhaal, a mutual contribution without which we would not project the intertwining of their their personae onto inanimate objects.)

But somehow, the less grandstanding performance of Gyllenhaal (except when he did, his lack of imposing masculinity which is often synonymous with screen gravitas, became painfully obvious), contains a wealth of what it means to be gay for many: it means even after conquering oneself (which Ledger's character had not), he had to conquer everyone else (wherein complicated "improv" of performance, masquerade ensue), in varying degrees of difficulty and satisfaction.