Opening 9 Mar 2006
Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) has achieved something rare with his latest film, Brokeback Mountain: he has crafted an unusual, powerful love story that just happens to be about two men. Based on the short story by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Proulx, Mountain first introduces us to cowboys Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) as they wait outside a trailer hoping to secure a job for the summer of 1963. They are hired by rancher Aguirre (Randy Quaid) to herd sheep on beautiful but desolate Brokeback Mountain. In this isolated setting, their relationship progresses from camaraderie to friendship to real intimacy, but soon the summer ends and they must leave each other. Each eventually marries – Ennis to his sweetheart Alma (Michelle Williams) and Jack to rodeo queen Lureen (Anne Hathaway) – and has a family, but they never forget each other. When Jack gets in touch with Ennis four years after they parted on Brokeback, they decide to meet again, resulting in the first of many unexpected consequences . . .
Many of the media stories prior to the release of Mountain have referred to it as the “gay cowboy film”, which is unfortunate because that label really shortchanges this film. Although Mountain obviously addresses issues about homosexuality and, especially, its non-acceptance by the small town folks living in the American West in the 60s, 70s and 80s, at its core this film is about intimacy, fidelity, commitment, and trust – regardless of gender or sexual orientation. While Mountain does not shy away from the physical aspects of Ennis and Jack’s relationship, it also doesn’t overdo it; the focus is more on how being forced to live a lie affects every aspect of the men’s lives. Ledger and Gyllenhaal are excellent in these challenging roles, deftly combining cowboy machismo with a touching vulnerability. Williams and Hathaway are also very believable as wives who know that something is missing from their marriages but who are unable to determine exactly what. My only complaint with the film was its rather slow pacing, but the beautiful Canadian landscapes (standing in for Wyoming and Texas) and excellent soundtrack helped make up for the occasional lack of action. Overall, Brokeback Mountain may cause you to re-examine your stereotypes, but be aware that it also may break your heart in the process. (Kirsten Greco)