What? No pudding?
I liked it, but I didn't love it. Maybe I was just in the wrong mood or something (although I'd been looking forward to it all day, so I can't think why), but it only drew me in by fits and starts.
Part of this I attribute to having seen the trailer a million and a half times. There were moments that I was dreading because they just seemed cheesy and forced (mostly anything that required me to believe that Jake Gyllenhaal would survive 4 seconds from the city limits) and they pretty much met expectations. There is something about Jake Gyllenhaal that just bugs me (sorry my Tennessee C, I know you love him, but he just doesn't do it for me).
Heath Ledger unsurprisingly carried the emotional burden of the movie. And the times when I was genuinely moved came almost exclusively from him. (He also scared the crap out of me, but he was still symapthetic to the end.) I do have but face, however: he spent a lot of time behind the Boomhauer Barrier. Even at the very end when I was totally on board with the emotional moment, I couldn't help but add a "dang ol' " in there mentally.
Of the supporting cast, I had written Michelle Williams off initially because she just seemed sullen and one note. But once the relationship was revealed, her paralyzed misery was heartbreaking. The kids they got to play their girls at all ages were quite good, and Alma, Jr., as a teenager was both a fine actress and bore a touching resemblence to both parents.
I thought Anne Hathaway was underused and her character was unnecessarily 2-dimensional. The brief glimpses that we get of Jack's life with her, hellishly 70s as they are, don't really compare to how comprehensively trapped Ennis is. The contrast exacerbates the peevish bratttyness that Jake Gyllenhaal never really shakes. The one exception to that is the duelling Thanksgiving dinners during which Lureen's sideways glance and secret smile gives a hint that that relationship could've been more complex if they'd bothered. Also on the Anne note, it is just WRONG seeing her boobs, and whose puppy did she kick to wind up in the horrible hair sweepstakes?
The scene with Jack's parents was painful (I mean painful in the way that it was intended, not Michelle-Trachtenberg-tries-to-emote painful) and relentless. The revelations in the kitchen are brutal, but no more brutal than his rage at Jack at their last meeting. Unfortunately (once again, I blame the trailer), the moment when he finds the shirts tucked behind the panel of the closet was ruined when the bloodstain was revealed and I immediately thought, "Now he can make a Jack clone and they can go Tokyo on Wyoming!" (I'm a sick, emotionally stunted individual, clearly.) But they had me back again when he walked into the kitchen, openly carrying them and Jack's mother hands him the grocery bag.
Overall, I just wish that I'd been more consistently engaged in the story, but a combination of minor pacing issues and my complete disdain for Jake Gyllenhaal kept that from happening. Still, I'll be genuinely conflicted when the Best Actor category comes up.