BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (director: Ang Lee; screenwriters: from the short story by E. Annie Proulx/Diana Ossana/Larry McMurtry; cinematographer: Rodrigo Prieto; editor: Geraldine Peroni/Dylan Tichenor; music: Gustavo Santaolalla; cast: Jake Gyllenhaal (Jack Twist), Heath Ledger (Ennis Del Mar), Michelle Williams (Alma Beers Del Mar), Anne Hathaway (Lureen Newsome Twist), Randy Quaid (Joe Aguirre), Linda Cardellini (Cassie), Anna Faris (Lashawn Malone), Kate Mara (Alma Jr.); Runtime: 134; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Diana Ossana/James Schamus; Focus Features; 2005)
“Tells an emotionally powerful forbidden love story with taste and intelligence.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Taiwanese native but longtime American resident Ang Lee (“Ride With The Devil”/”Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) is the assured director, who quietly shoots for getting all the details and nuances right and avoiding any unnecessary shocks by making his gay romantic tale fit as a universal love story (assuming from the film’s tremendous hype that the public already knows the kind of love scenes to expect and therefore shouldn’t be shocked–though right-wing Christian fundamentalist activists might hurl verbal bricks at it from a distance). Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry turn in the literate screenplay that’s based on the 1997 short story by Pulitzer Prize winner E. Annie Proulx that first appeared in The New Yorker. The script sat for eight years on the shelf because the money backers were scared away by the sensitive subject matter.
It’s a contemporary Western that examines the vast Wyoming landscape and the psyche of the modern cowboy in great detail and tells an emotionally powerful forbidden love story with taste and intelligence, perhaps like it has never been told before by Hollywood in such an honest and unassuming way while keeping the gay love scenes hot. It’s gorgeously photographed by Mexican cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto in bright natural colors (shot in Alberta, Canada). The acting by the two protagonists Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger is outstanding, with Ledger’s being one of the great ones in film history as his part is the more challenging and he more than meets the challenge (it may be on par with Brando’s “method acting” in “One-Eyed Jacks,” though he still has a long way to go to become as versatile as the legendary actor).
Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) are both 19-year-olds and fit into the Western rough-hewn outdoorsmen stoical image, even to the point of both cowboys looking like the Marlboro Man. They first meet when outside a trailer office where they’re hired by rancher Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid) as sheepherders in the vast open spaces of Signal, Wyoming in the summer of 1963, where one stays at the base camp and the other stays with the sheep to keep away the coyotes. They’re both not the talkative types, keeping their emotions and thoughts in check, with Ennis being the more taciturn. Bored with eating beans, drinking java, their lonely job, and swapping rodeo and ranch stories, Ennis opens up and tells a little about his life as an orphan. When the campfire goes out one cold night, the drunken young men find themselves indulging in sex doggie-style in their tent atop their bedrolls. The next morning neither of them cares to talk about what took place. Ennis only mumbles “You know I ain’t queer.” Jack, a Montgomery Clift androgynous type of a cowboy, quickly chimes in “Me neither.” But something deep touched them inside their souls and they part after the summer hoping they can catch up with one another again, but remain cautious as they realize this is 1963 Wyoming and bad things could happen if they are caught. They are not hired again, as the rancher with his binoculars spied on them when he came out unexpectedly to visit and caught them playfully wrestling instead of doing their job.
As the years pass they build lives apart from each other, as each marries–Ennis to the conservative family woman Alma (Michelle Williams) and Jack to the spicy fun-loving rich blonde Texas cowgirl Lureen (Anne Hathaway). They have children and meet again after not seeing each other for four years and after a quick stopover at a motel arrange to go on fishing trips annually. This continues for the next twenty years, where they don’t catch fish but have sex. Meanwhile their marriages come apart (on Thanksgiving Day Alma decides to clue hubby in that she knows what goes on during those fishing trips and in their later years Lureen becomes too bitchy for Jack to take). They approach middle-age and the star-crossed lovers never can satisfy their love except through their Same Time, Next Year fishing trips. The saddest and most poignant scene is reserved for the conclusion, as Ennis visits Jack’s boyhood ranch home after his unexpected death and meets his sullen parents. Jack’s mom gives him permission to visit his friend’s room and sadly Ennis’s wasted life passes before him as he looks over what was left behind, and one has to wonder if taking the risk to find love in an open relationship could have saved them from leading such empty lives.
The landmark film shines as an austere and quietly drawn tale about such things as living a lie and marrying someone you don’t love because society is homophobic and the risks are too great to do otherwise. Their gay love is still not accepted by many across the country and probably not in “red state” Wyoming, as one can assume there are great risks for those who flaunt the bigoted local customs. But this gay love story touches on more than sexual desire, as it reaches to the heart of the individual and his finding acceptance with his own identity and wholeness so he can live with peace from within and not suffer from a lifetime of repression. The film offers no answers but some might need hankies before all is said and done, as Lee in a low-key conservative manner voices support for gay marriages in this dark time of a antagonistic Bush faith-based administration where there’s little compassion for gay rights. It’s a film for its time that takes the mainstream movie-goers into territory they haven’t ventured before and gives them a real love story.
REVIEWED ON 12/9/2005 GRADE: A-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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