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