Brokeback Mountain (15)

Directed by Ang Lee
Written by E. Annie Proulx (novel), Larry McMurty and Diana Ossana (screenplay)
On general release from 6th January 2006

Reviewed by Adam Ford

Yes, this is the ‘gay cowboy movie’ you’ve heard so much about. Perhaps you should take a moment to consider all the images that conjures up. Ok, now that’s out of the way I can talk seriously about a film that should deeply affect almost anyone who sees it – male, female, gay, straight, Stetson wearer or non-Stetson wearer.

Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) are the two cowboys, who meet at the age of nineteen when they are hired to tend sheep up in the mountain of the title. Ennis is uptight, awkward and already engaged to be married to Alma (Michelle Williams). Jack is a little less restrained, and dreams of being a star on the rodeo circuit. Throughout the course of a summer, the two gradually develop a friendship that explosively changes into a sexual relationship. When the season ends, the two go their separate ways, but the irresistible force of their attraction means that they continue to dominate each other’s thoughts for the next two decades. Constrained by both the pressures of work and the society’s prejudice, Ennis and Jack live-out a horribly frustrated love that dare not speak its name, while their families suffer in the background.

Director Ang Lee certainly asks a lot of its audience. We are required to sit and squirm as our two heroes pass-up opportunity after agonizing opportunity to deal with their emotions on endless ‘fishing trips’ amidst sprawling but somehow claustrophobic mountain ranges. Silences crackle from the speakers with tangible electricity. But this is a sign of respect, because Lee clearly believes that there’s still enough of an audience for challenging cinema that pulls no punches. His cinematographer (Rodrigo Prieto) mirrors the violence of the emotion with violent weather in a use of pathetic fallacy that is anything but pathetic.

In an outstanding cast, Heath Ledger stands out even further, somehow managing to play a man who is trying so hard to disguise his true sensitivities that he makes them blatantly obvious. The Oscar nominations are just a couple of weeks away, so a Best Actor nomination looks certain. Gyllenhaal is somewhat overshadowed, but he still manages to turn-in a career best performance as the man who dares to dream the dream, and ends-up paying the price. The two wives are also superb, especially Anne Hathaway - who reveals adult appeal unseen in The Princess Diaries and Ella Enchanted – during her portrayal of Jack’s ambitious and wealthy spouse.

It’s only January, but this might just be the film of the year. If it’s a bad year.

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