- Ang Lee
- Reviewed by
- José Ruiloba a.k.a. Morris
- Review date
- Tuesday, January 17, 2006
In 1963 Wyoming, Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis del Mar (Heath Ledger) meet when they take a job as sheep herders at Brokeback Mountain. Their friendship leads to a sudden and unexpected attraction, but they part ways when the summer ends. Both get married, Ennis to longtime girlfriend Alma (Michelle Williams) and Jack to rodeo queen Lureen (Anne Hathaway). But as they move on with their lives, only meeting occasionally through the years, their impossible love for each other starts to consume them...
The movie is based on a short story by E. Annie Proulx, and adapted to the big screen by the legendary Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana. They had both, along with producer James Schamus, been trying to get this movie made for years, but Hollywood shied away from such a controversial topic: one of the quintessential macho genres mixed with a homosexual plot. It was when Ang Lee showed interest that it finally moved forward, showing that when all elements are in place, true gems can surface.
Brokeback Mountain is, first and foremost, one of the greatest love stories ever put on film. The fact that it is between two men is secondary to the epic roots of the story. Its themes are universal. The focus wisely remains on Jack and Ennis, two very different people who are lucky enough to experience what true love is, but who don’t know what to do with it, nor do they ever mention it. Ennis had a difficult childhood, raised and disposed by his siblings, no education, lack of commodities... a rough life. Jack didn’t have it easy either, but he was able to accept himself and was willing to do something about it. They both know that they’re meant to be together, but Ennis can’t come to terms with it. He’s afraid of people finding out, but mostly of feeling something he never thought he would, something that he’s been taught is wrong and dangerous. “This thing”, he calls it. Their love becomes a burden, but it is love nonetheless, an unattainable one. And there’s nothing they can do about their feelings.
This is where the movie’s hidden subtext fully emerges. To crave for something you want and not do anything about it; to have an unfulfilled dream until it’s too late to see it realized; to see your life go by and have sadness reign over happiness; to be so miserable that it not only affects you, but those surrounding you. All of these themes so carefully conveyed in scenes such as the one in which Jack finally unleashes his anger towards Ennis or in the last sequence of the movie, which hits you like a shot in the heart.
Ang Lee directs the movie with such class and elegance that every scene is something to marvel at. Whether it’s the way he directs his actors, or the way in which he paints a canvas, he knows what he’s doing and what he wants to convey. He also opts for a lack of sentimentalism and manipulation that is thankful. This leads the audience to have a powerful experience while watching the movie, but to end up even more affected long after it’s over. The residue it leaves is potent and aching. And it stays there.
Rodrigo Prieto’s magnificent photography and Gustavo Santaolalla’s beautiful score are part of the movie’s greatness, accentuating the intimacy of the story with subtlety.
Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal not only share a lot of chemistry, but they both deliver unforgettable performances as the doomed lovers. Ledger channels his character’s pain from the inside, as every word he mutters feels like it’s fighting to come out. His Ennis is a tragic character, a man who can’t come to terms with who he is and what he feels. Ledger takes over his struggle and transforms it into something memorable and honest. Jake, on the other hand, is equally good as the more forth-coming of the two, the one that changes the most during the years as his broken heart starts to take over his soul. Both are surrounded by a talented cast that accompanies them through the years, especially Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway, both of who leave indelible impressions. Williams’s suffering is palpable, and Hathaway nails the bitchy banter and truly impresses in that telephone scene. Kate Mara as Ennis’s daughter, Linda Cardellini as one of Ennis’s girlfriends, Anna Faris as Lureen’s friend and Roberta Maxwell as Jake’s mother are all pitch-perfect in their small roles.
A masterpiece, unequivocally the best movie of the year.
“I wish I knew how to quit you.”
CriticSociety en Twitter | CriticSociety en Facebook
Share on Facebook | Share on Twitter
- Ang Lee
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Monday, February 06, 2006
The film involves two young men in Wyoming – one a cowboy named Ennis (Heath Ledger), another a rodeo rider called Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) – who meet while requesting a job to tend sheep on the mountainside of Brokeback Mountain. They’re both 19, Ennis much more reserved and quiet than outgoing Jack, both adrift and penniless, both with a past they don’t love and a future they hope will be better.
They’re also both gay, something evident only after their chemistry becomes so strong and undeniable. But even though they somehow give in to their feelings, the connection takes some time and never becomes quite established – Ennis seems incapable of accepting this aspect of himself. Society’s paradigms are stronger than his will; he’s just terrified he might meet the fate he saw other gay people meet when he was a kid. So what is there to do? Live a life of denial? Make oneself believe that there’s more to life than what’s clearly right even if other people say the contrary? Maybe so.
The guys leave Brokeback Mountain and so begins Jack’s hell. Ennis says goodbye in a cold, distant way, leaving Jack shattered, and admittedly also himself. It’s the only way. He then goes on to marry pretty Alma (Michelle Williams) and establish his society-demanded heterosexual life. Jack has a harder time fooling himself. He misses Ennis but doesn’t know what to do about that. Eventually, he also marries a girl, self-absorbed Lureen (Anne Hathaway), queen of the rodeo, the daughter of a wealthy man that’ll make Jack’s life simpler. But nature is stronger – when Jack looks for Ennis and proposes they meet, Ennis is more than willing, like he wouldn’t look for the chance himself but he opens arms to an external force of nature. They meet and so begins Alma’s hell, as she realizes what’s going on and sees her world shattered. Often, but not too often, the guys go back to Brokeback Mountain, where they spend what their wives are told are “fishing trips.”
In actuality, Jack is living his reality, while Ennis is escaping his. Their worlds are in fact so disconnected that they can’t ever settle. Every chance they get to do so is quickly snubbed by the tougher of the two, the one less willing to give up a life of “normality.” That’s really what this movie is about. This is a love story indeed, and a tragic one, and that’s what I expected; but that is eclipsed by the true theme of the film, one that’s shattering and unforgivable: people who are not willing to go the distance.
I had read that if you were not gay, it’d be hard to connect with this movie; I also read the exact opposite, reviews that said the theme was universal and could move anyone. I stayed somewhere in between. I didn’t mind the gay factor, but I just couldn’t connect to the characters either, since I just didn’t like or buy the way they handled things. That’s the story, I know, but when a character spends 20 years in indecision, and sort of puts everyone’s life on hold, I don’t quite swallow. In fact, the reactions of the other seem implausible to me. This is a potent movie indeed, but maybe not as believable as it could be. And that of course marred the experience.
Ang Lee’s hand is unforgiving in the direction; it’s hard not to be moved. The striking film is beautifully shot by Rodrigo Prieto, with music by Gustavo Santaolalla, both moving and unforgettable. The performances are real works of art, with Ledger and Gyllenhaal indescribable, Michelle Williams outstanding. Nice work as well by Randy Quaid, Roberta Maxwell, Anna Faris, Linda Cardellini, and everyone else.
A daring film and a must from this year.
“I wish I knew how to quit you!”
Gon C Curiel en Twitter | CriticSociety en Twitter | CriticSociety en Facebook
Share on Facebook | Share on Twitter