Brokeback Mountain

Reviewed by James Lynch

Many films have been made about the collision of passion and society, when the heart and the world are in conflict, but few have been done with the beauty and depth of Brokeback Mountain. This is not due to the controversial content – calling it a “gay cowboy movie” is a vast oversimplification – but due to the strong performances, excellent direction, and beautiful cinematography.

Cowboys Ennis del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) first meet in Wyoming in 1963, taking a job living on Brokeback Mountain while watching over a herd of sheep and getting occasional supplies brought from town. At first the men are indifferent to each other – Ennis is largely quiet and focused on the job, while Jack chats, plays harmonica, and talks about the rodeo – but soon they start getting along. They do more than that, as a sudden, almost violent physical passion takes hold of them both. The two men assure each other that they “ain’t queer” and that their “thing” is only during the job.

After the job ends, the two men pursue their separate lives. Ennis stays in Wyoming, marries his fiancée Alma (Michelle Williams), and gets by doing small jobs and taking care of his family. Jack moves to Texas, tries and fails at bull riding, marries beautiful rodeo star Lureen (Anne Hathaway), and makes a living working for his father-in-law. But when Ennis and Jack meet again, their passion flares anew. Soon the men are sneaking off on “fishing trips” a few times a year. Alma (who knows this hidden side of Ennis) worries about her man, Jack wants Ennis to leave his life and join him on a two-man ranch, and Ennis refuses to leave his “normal” life, claiming his duties as a family man but also fearing what could happen if people found out about them.

Brokeback Mountain is an extraordinary look at these two characters and the choices that they make and the rules they consider. Jake Gyllenhaal makes Jack Twist an appealing character, someone whose desire to go after what he wants is both appealing (he’s more willing to commit to his partner) and a weakness (as he pursues other men when Ennis keeps resisting him). Heath Ledger offers a wonderfully nuanced performance: His character is largely quiet, but for all his strength he is dominated by fear and lashes out at any thought others could find out. Director Ang Lee, recovering nicely from the debacle of Hulk, does a wonderful job of making the characters fully realized – with strength, weakness, beauty, desire, and conflict. And the cinematography reflects the worlds of the characters. Brokeback Mountain first appears to be a bad place to work (cold, rainy) but soon appears to be a paradise, especially in contrast to the stifling drabness of the “normal” world the men live in. These elements combine to make Brokeback Mountain that rare gem: a beautiful, powerful, flawless movie. Brokeback Mountain is the best movie I’ve seen in 2005, and it is a true classic.

Overall Grade: A+

1 comment:

Pax said...

Thanks for the review, James.