© 2006 Ray Wong
Stars: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Randy Quaid, Anne Hathaway, Michelle Williams
Director: Ang Lee
Writers: Larry McMurtry, Diana Ossana (based on short story by E. Annie Proulx)
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality, nudity, language and some violence
Running time: 134 minutes
Script – 9
Performance – 9
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 9
Editing – 8
Production – 9
Total Score – 8.7 out of 10
As I type these words, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN just won four Golden Globe awards including Best Drama. It’s no surprise to a lot of people, even though the film itself was every bit a surprise.
Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) and Jack Twist (Gyllenhaal), both 19 years old, are two poor ranch hands from Riverton, Wyoming. They meet one summer while seeking jobs, and Joe Aguirre (Quaid) hires them to herd sheep up in Brokeback Mountain.
Ennis is a taciturn, reserved and shy man. Jack is a charmer, a dreamer, a risk-taker. Their difficult childhoods and shared interests quickly secure a bond between them. Then one cold night, their budding friendship turns into something else: a drunken, violent sexual encounter. The next day, neither of them speaks of the incident, until Ennis tells Jack, “What happened was a one shot deal. I ain’t queer.” Jack replies, “Me neither.”
When the summer is over, Ennis and Jack go their separate ways. Ennis marries his sweetheart Elma (Williams) and they raise two daughters. Jack marries wealthy girl Lureen (Hathaway) and has a son. Everything is normal until, after four long years, Ennis receives a postcard from Jack. Something deep inside stirs up a hornet’s nest. Their reunion becomes the beginning of a 20-year secret affair. Brokeback Mountain becomes their refuge from the world they don’t belong.
Ledger (CASANOVA) is extraordinary with his portrayal of Ennis Del Mar, a man who has few words in his vocabulary, a man so repressed that he doesn’t know how to express himself or go for what he wants. Ledger reveals so much about the characters often without saying a word. His mannerism and facial expression speak volume. He’s transformed himself realistically into a man that is so unlike the actor himself, who has mostly been known for his fluffy, light performances in the past. In contrast, Gyllenhaal (PROOF) has the more lively role. His Jack Twist is the opposite of Ennis in almost every way. Jack’s longing for the man he loves is evident in Gyllenhaal’s stellar performance. The men also share immense chemistry together. You believe they’re real. You believe their feelings for each other are real.
While one can argue that it’s a character study of two men and their relationship, the women in the film add an immense appeal to the film. Williams (THE STATION AGENT) is amazing with her heartbreaking performance as Ennis’s long-suffering wife Alma. When she witnesses something about her husband that she doesn’t fully understand, her reaction is incredibly real and painful to watch. Hathaway (HAVOC) has a relatively minor role as Jack’s indifferent wife Lureen. But her final scene is mesmerizing – Hathaway has matured into a fine actress.
BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN unfolds slowly and, under the direction of Lee (HULK), the pacing is deliberate and leisurely. At more than two hours, the film feels slow sometimes, but it is far from being boring. While the plot is simplistic, the acting is exceptional and there is so much going on at the thematic and emotional levels that one can’t help but feel spellbound by the story.
The script by awarding-winning writers McMurtry (TERMS OF ENDEARMENT) and Ossana (DEAD MAN’S WALK) expands Proulx’s short story into a languid character study that holds on to your heart and doesn’t let go. The dialogue is real and to the point – nothing too poetic or out of character. Mostly episodic, there are many fine moments in the film that are emotionally raw and powerful. The ending will haunt you.
Lee’s direction is masterful, and it clearly demonstrates his versatility as a director. It’s even more impressive when you consider Lee’s heritage as a Chinese immigrant, and how he so deftly captures Americana in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. The cinematography by Rodgrigo Prieto (21 GRAMS) is breathtaking. The editing is crisp. Gustavo Santaolalla’s (MOTORCYCLE DIARIES) score is subdue but poignant.
Some say this is a “gay cowboy” movie. I say this is a story about love and betrayal and life. Homosexuality is only part of it – the heterosexual aspects of the story are just as strong. If you have ever loved and lost before, you will feel the impact of this story. The film is like fine wine – it delicately lingers on your palate and seeps into your vein. BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is destined to become an American classic.