Michelle Williams received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Alma Beers Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain.
Brokeback Mountain is an outstanding movie about the stormy, passionate, twenty-years long love story between two men in American West. It's one of my favorite movies of all time: Ang Lee sets the perfect melanchonic tone for this movie - even in the warmest scenes between the two main characters, there is an underlying sadness in every single frame that makes the movie extremely haunting and moving. Lee makes the love story between Ennis and Jack one for the ages without making it too sentimental, and gives a realistic depiction of the society of that time that is never heavy-heanded or overbearing. With its beautiful, tender and sad score and its excellent cinematography, the movie doesn't even make my cry, it achieves something more: it stays with me for days after I've watched it.
Michelle Williams plays the role of Alma, Ennis' (Heath Ledger) wife. In her first scenes, that depict Ennis's and Alma's life through their first years of marriage, Williams portrays Alma exactly as what she is supposed to be: a completely ordinary woman. She is very realistic as she portrays Alma going through her everyday life and even if the movie doesn't actually devote much time to her character she manages to establish her as a three-dimensional, believable character and gives the viewer the perfect idea of what her life is like. The strongest aspect of her work early on in the movie is her chemistry with Heath Ledger, as both actors give an intentional awkwardness to their moments alone together. Ledger is excellent because he shows that, even if he cares about Alma in a certain way, he does not love her, while Williams on the other hand does a great job at portraying her love towards her husband as well as her inability to fully understand him and to know him intimately. Williams is very moving in those scenes, such as the scene in which she witnesses Ennis beating up two men who insulted him, as she portrays wonderfully Alma's incapability to connect with him and understand his actions, even if she herself is unaware of her husband's secrets.
But not for long: one day, Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes to visit Ennis and Alma accidentally sees them kissing passionately. Michelle Williams is amazing as she portrays Alma's silent reaction, beautifully conveying first the shock and then the heartbreak. The brief moments in which we see Alma's trying to cope with her discovery are some of the highest points of her performance - she is absolutely devastating and nails every single emotion: the first few seconds in which she just doesn't seem to able to understand what's happening, as if she was in a bad dream, then her attempts to act normal when Ennis comes back in and then her final breakdown as soon as she leaves are perfectly acted by Williams. In the later scenes, both actors are very good at portraying the decay of Alma's and Ennis' marriage. Williams does a fantastic job in such a short span of time to shift from heartbreak to an eventual bitterness and the scene in which Alma tells Ennis she doesn't want his kids anymore because he isn't able to afford them is chilling in its quiet brutality.
Michelle Williams' best (and most famous as well) scene is her final scene in which Alma, now remarried, confronts Ennis about his affair with Jack. It's a truly terrific scene thanks to Williams' excellent acting as she builds-up the tense of the scene until she finally unleashes her anger towards Ennis. The scene is great because it feels completely earned by Williams, who did a very strong job at keeping Alma's resentment bottled up during the rest of the movie in order to let it all come out in this key scene. I guess why some people might not like her work in this scene as she might overdo her facial expressions in a couple of moments but I think that those few moments are completely forgivable considering the emotional weight she brings ("Jack Twist... Jack Nasty!" is brilliant because the unexpected venom conveyed by Williams' voice).
This is not a truly amazing performance as the role of Alma is limited by her rather short amount of screen-time but within it Williams manages to leave a remarkable impression. She delivers a realistic and at times moving portrayal of her character's transition from loving to embittered and her final scene is a true knockout. She is not the best part of Brokeback Mountain, but she is part what makes it such a compelling, unforgettable experience.