Brokeback Mountain

 
Directed by: Ang Lee
Written by:Larry McMurtry, Diana Ossana
Starring: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Randy Quaid, Anne Hathaway, Michelle Williams
Released: January 26, 2006
Grade: A

Brokeback Mountain premiered in September 2005 at the Venice Film Festival and the buzz has been growing ever since.  It has won a “mountain” of awards and features on almost every U.S. critic’s top 10 list.  The film has received as much attention for its subject material as it has for its quality.  Labelled “the gay cowboy movie”, a handful of cinemas in the United States have refused to screen the film.  The funny thing is that this heavy media attention will only increase public awareness of the film.  As they say, any publicity is good publicity.

Those that go along to Brokeback Mountain are in for a treat.  It is the story of Ennis (Ledger) and Jack (Gyllenhaal), two cowboys who first met in 1963.  The pair spent the summer together herding sheep across the mountainous terrain of Wyoming.  At first, there was a friendship but then something deeper, more complicated developed between them.  Ennis and Jack became lovers and in the vast seclusion of the Wyoming landscape, they could be who they wanted to be.

The summer soon ended and both reluctantly returned to the real world they had forgotten.  They understood that their romance could not continue.  Cowboys have such a tough reputation and if anyone were to find out, they could be killed.  Ennis goes on to marry a sweet country girl named Alma (Williams) and Jack moves to Texas to marry a wealthy rodeo-girl named Lureen (Hathaway).

Love is a powerful force however and Ennis and Jack have never forgotten the summer of 1963.  Several years later, Jack tracks Ennis down and the two start going on fishing trips together.  Alma suspects the truth when the trips become more and more frequent and the pair never return with any fish.  It’s a shattering realisation for Alma who realises her marriage is a sham.

Based on a short story from E. Annie Proulx (The Shipping News), Brokeback Mountain is directed by the great Ang Lee (Sense & Sensibility, The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon).  The film’s best quality is its lack of dialogue.  It’s a trait I love in movies – instead of listening to characters, we study them and wonder what is going on inside their heads.  The answers are not laid out plainly before us.

The film’s huge emotional impact can be attributed to the incredible performances of Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal.  Ennis is the quieter of the duo, trying hard to suppress his feelings.  Jack is more talkative and more open to the idea that they could be together forever one day.  They may have different personalities but they share the same heart-breaking problem – they cannot be with the person they love.

With its sweeping country vistas and a guitar-laced soundtrack from Argentinean composer Gustavo Santaolalla (The Motorcycle Diaries), Brokeback Mountain is one of the rawest, most honest romantic dramas seen in recent years.  Perhaps this is why it is connecting so resolutely with audiences.  As the front runner for this year’s Academy Award for best picture, it’s destined to be remembered.