Movie Review: Brokeback Mountain

By: Gay.com
1.2.2009

Beyond painting a spectacular portrait of the American West and treating issues of gayness and masculinity with intelligence and sensitivity, "Brokeback Mountain" does something many films aspire to but fail to achieve: It convinces you that two people have fallen in love.

Adapted from the award-winning short story of the same name by Annie Proulx, "Brokeback Mountain" follows the consuming romance of Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) -- two young cowboys who bond over canned beans and bear attacks on a desolate Wyoming mountaintop in 1963, while herding sheep. One drunken night as they cling to each other for warmth, their attraction suddenly cracks open, and they find themselves making clumsy, violent, devouring love.

But the true story of their relationship begins after Jack and Ennis have left the mountain for separate lives. They dutifully marry and have children, only to reunite four years later and realize the intensity of their connection, as well as the seeming hopelessness of their situation. They spend the next 20 years meeting for "fishing trips," their escape from "real" lives in which they feel trapped. Desperate as they are to be together, their romance is confined to a week here and a long weekend there, on mountains that never quite equal the rapture of Brokeback Mountain.

Director Ang Lee and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto take us to a world that, like the lives of these men, can be crude, cloudy, beautiful and intense. Brokeback Mountain is set on a stunning, scruffy wooded ridge; you can almost taste the cold stream water that burbles past the men's mountain sanctuary. In the trailers and tract homes where the men settle with their families, the fake wood siding and a sad, pervasive yellow-brown glow only underscore the vitality of Brokeback Mountain. A spare score by Gustavo Santaolalla completes the grand, solitary Western plains effect.

Lee's cast inhabits this remote world with such conviction, it's as though they've never set foot off the ranch. Heath Ledger's Ennis stands out as the more reticent of the two lovers. He's gripped by fear of breaking the rules of straight cowboy life, and shows it in his every expression. By turns hooded, explosive, and detached from his own life, Ennis grinds out his few words through a mouth clenched full of tobacco and self-doubt.

Gyllenhaal's Jack devotes less energy to hiding his feelings -- he has a puppyish optimism about the possibility of making a life with Ennis, so there's naturally less intensity seething beneath the surface. Yet Gyllenhaal brings enormous charm to the role, and a disarming ability to convey soul-churning regret with just a glance. At times Gyllenhaal seems almost too cute, which makes his struggle against a harsh, unaccepting world all the sadder.

The supporting cast is so strong that it risks upstaging the featured performers. Michelle Williams stumbles brilliantly along a crooked line between sympathetic, frustrated wife and bitter enforcer of straight convention. Anne Hathaway starts out as a pitch-perfect red-hatted rodeo princess and then morphs into an equally believable hardened Texas business-wife in response to Jack's inattentiveness.

Both women undercut the main story of star-crossed lovers, ultimately making the film more honest, more genuinely poignant than if the women were treated as mere obstacles for the men to overcome. The slightly greater emphasis on the women's suffering in the film than in the short story -- largely a function of strong performances, especially by Williams -- is one of very few departures from the source material.

You might wish Lee would show you more of Ennis and Jack together, and less of the long stretches when they're apart. One scene of the two lovers sharing a smoke and a laugh in a motel bed gives you a taste of how they could be spending their months and years between fishing trips, but don't. But that's just the point: Ennis and Jack would die for more such moments together.

-- Marc Breindel

(2005, USA)
Director: Ang Lee
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal ; Heath Ledger ; Michelle Williams

Gay_movies_brokeback_mountain Beyond painting a spectacular portrait of the American West and treating issues of gayness and masculinity with intelligence and sensitivity, "Brokeback Mountain" does something many films aspire to but fail to achieve: It convinces you that two people have fallen in love.

Adapted from the award-winning short story of the same name by Annie Proulx, "Brokeback Mountain" follows the consuming romance of Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) -- two young cowboys who bond over canned beans and bear attacks on a desolate Wyoming mountaintop in 1963, while herding sheep. One drunken night as they cling to each other for warmth, their attraction suddenly cracks open, and they find themselves making clumsy, violent, devouring love.

But the true story of their relationship begins after Jack and Ennis have left the mountain for separate lives. They dutifully marry and have children, only to reunite four years later and realize the intensity of their connection, as well as the seeming hopelessness of their situation. They spend the next 20 years meeting for "fishing trips," their escape from "real" lives in which they feel trapped. Desperate as they are to be together, their romance is confined to a week here and a long weekend there, on mountains that never quite equal the rapture of Brokeback Mountain.

Director Ang Lee and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto take us to a world that, like the lives of these men, can be crude, cloudy, beautiful and intense. Brokeback Mountain is set on a stunning, scruffy wooded ridge; you can almost taste the cold stream water that burbles past the men's mountain sanctuary. In the trailers and tract homes where the men settle with their families, the fake wood siding and a sad, pervasive yellow-brown glow only underscore the vitality of Brokeback Mountain. A spare score by Gustavo Santaolalla completes the grand, solitary Western plains effect.

Lee's cast inhabits this remote world with such conviction, it's as though they've never set foot off the ranch. Heath Ledger's Ennis stands out as the more reticent of the two lovers. He's gripped by fear of breaking the rules of straight cowboy life, and shows it in his every expression. By turns hooded, explosive, and detached from his own life, Ennis grinds out his few words through a mouth clenched full of tobacco and self-doubt.

Gyllenhaal's Jack devotes less energy to hiding his feelings -- he has a puppyish optimism about the possibility of making a life with Ennis, so there's naturally less intensity seething beneath the surface. Yet Gyllenhaal brings enormous charm to the role, and a disarming ability to convey soul-churning regret with just a glance. At times Gyllenhaal seems almost too cute, which makes his struggle against a harsh, unaccepting world all the sadder.

The supporting cast is so strong that it risks upstaging the featured performers. Michelle Williams stumbles brilliantly along a crooked line between sympathetic, frustrated wife and bitter enforcer of straight convention. Anne Hathaway starts out as a pitch-perfect red-hatted rodeo princess and then morphs into an equally believable hardened Texas business-wife in response to Jack's inattentiveness.

Both women undercut the main story of star-crossed lovers, ultimately making the film more honest, more genuinely poignant than if the women were treated as mere obstacles for the men to overcome. The slightly greater emphasis on the women's suffering in the film than in the short story -- largely a function of strong performances, especially by Williams -- is one of very few departures from the source material.

You might wish Lee would show you more of Ennis and Jack together, and less of the long stretches when they're apart. One scene of the two lovers sharing a smoke and a laugh in a motel bed gives you a taste of how they could be spending their months and years between fishing trips, but don't. But that's just the point: Ennis and Jack would die for more such moments together.

-- Marc Breindel

(2005, USA)
Director: Ang Lee
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal ; Heath Ledger ; Michelle Williams

Tags: MOVIES
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