Sunday, January 15, 2006

Movie Review: Brokeback Mountain

U.S. Release Date: 12/16/05 (limited)
Running Time: 2:15
Rated: R (Sexual situations, profanity, nudity)
Cast: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, Randy Quaid, Linda Cardellini, Anna Faris

Director: Ang Lee
Producers: Diana Ossana, James Schamus
Screenplay: Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana, based on the short story by Annie Proulx
Music: Gustavo Santaolalla
Studio: Focus Features

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Much like The Bridges of Madison County, Brokeback Mountain is about longing for an illicit love. It’s about suppressing a soul-mate in fear of society’s non-conforming standards. In fact, the only key difference between the theses of Bridges and Brokeback is that Ang Lee’s love story stems from the hearts of two men.

Labeled ad infinitum as “that gay cowboy movie,” Brokeback Mountain is an honest, impervious romance spliced together with simplistic grace from a herd of hired hands. Despite a few sloppy scene transitions, the direction is admirable, the score is sensuous, and the acting is stellar.

In the summer of 1963, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) share the task of tending sheep through the Wyoming countryside. After a few days of fending-off wolves, eating canned beans, and drinking whiskey, the two spontaneously and violently engage in intercourse. The next morning Ennis says to Jack, “This is a one-shot thing we got going on here; I ain’t queer.” Jack replies, “Me neither.”

Once the two cowboys deliver the sheep and descend Brokeback Mountain, they part their separate ways. While Ennis marries his longtime sweetheart, Alma (Michelle Williams), and has two children, Jack marries a feisty cowgirl named Lureen (Anne Hathaway) and fathers a son. Years pass, until Ennis and Jack finally reunite. Jack urges Ennis to flee his family, so they can start a life of their own, but Ennis reminds Jack, “This thing grabs hold of us at the wrong time, in the wrong place, and we’re dead.”

The invariable depiction of the intricate facets in Jack and Ennis’ relationship is a testament to master director Ang Lee’s knowledge of character development. Because of Lee’s unyielding focus, the film strolls along at the leisurely pace of tumbleweed—delicately rolling down a lonely stretch of dirt road. Yet, its progression is comforting, and in no way tiresome. In addition, Gustavo Santaolalla’s simplistic, yet infectious, score blends beautifully with the unhurried aura that Lee already accomplishes.

Heath Ledger turns his acting career on its ear, with his nominee-worthy role as the reserved and inertly-troubled Ennis Del Mar. However, more impressive is the generous support that Ledger receives. As Jack Twist, Jake Gyllenhaal dismisses any second-guessing that he is one of the most adaptable and talented actors in the game. Anne Hathaway proves that she is more than Disney’s Princess with her exquisite performance (especially during the telephone conversation). Michelle Williams (Heath Ledger’s real-life love interest) intensifies the feature with her emotional portrayal of the wife and victim. In addition, both Randy Quaid and Anna Farris leave their comedic characterizations at the door and place the very best they have to offer on display.

While conservative critics have publicly renounced the film because of its homosexual subject matter, liberal critics have saturated the film with more praise than it deserves for the very same reasons. Brokeback Mountain should not be judged solely on its inclusion of gay love. All politics aside, Brokeback Mountain is commendable for an honest portrayal of its romance and estimable for the passion exuded by all involved.

In a final appraisal, however, Brokeback Mountain is not the best feature of 2005. Even so, bet the farm that it takes home the “Best Picture” honor at the Oscars; after all, it has all the epic fixings that the voters have come to know and love. (*** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2006