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Brokeback Mountain Movie Poster

Brokeback Mountain

Genre: Drama/Romance
Rated: R
Directed by
: Ang Lee
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, Randy Quaid, Linda Cardellini
Released by: Universal Pictures

In Short: The summer of 1963 on Brokeback Mountain changed the lives of two young sheepherders forever; it taught them (and reminds their audience) that love does indeed break all rules.

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By Veronica Marian

Some movies garner Oscar buzz and have accolades bestowed upon them long before they actually get released. With this kind of attention comes scrutiny, and the movie then has more at stake than just box-office success; it must prove itself with both critics and audiences, justifying the hype. “Brokeback Mountain” is one of 2005’s most controversial, talked-about films. The unfortunately monikered “Gay Cowboy Movie” is not really about gay cowboys, so anyone waiting to see this film just to snicker about Jake Gyllenhaal kissing Heath Ledger can leave those expectations at the door. What the film is really about is the strength and relentlessness of love, which refuses to be denied despite every external attempt to ignore it. It is about unassailable friendship and the strength required to embrace this kind of emotional response to another human being.

Jack Twist (Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) meet in the summer of 1963 when they both work as sheepherders on Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming. Jack is outgoing and excitable, Ennis is moody and withdrawn. Despite their differences, the two soon form an intimate friendship that, coupled with the magnetic energy felt between them, becomes the most important relationship of each of their lives. Yet, this is the 1960s in a rural part of the United States, and neither of them dreams of completely letting go of the lifestyle they are expected to lead.

The relationship between Jack and Ennis is one between two people and not two genders, and anyone who goes in for the controversy is sure to be converted to seeing it as a love story rather than a “gay” love story. Gyllenhaal and Ledger portray very different characters, each of whom is complex, vulnerable, enervating and lovable in his own way. Jack’s wide-eyed optimism is refreshing yet heartbreaking, because the audience knows that the world loves to break these kinds of spirits down. Ennis can be very infuriating with his proud, seemingly disconnected manner which hides the sentimentalist he can be. Their relationship is never easy, yet it survives for twenty years, while Ennis lives in Wyoming and Jack in Texas, each man living with his own wife, finding his own way.

Despite the great performances given by Gyllenhaal and Ledger, a very strong script and stunning pastoral visuals, there are certain aspects of “Brokeback Mountain” that fall just a bit short, in spite of the good intentions behind them. Any film attempting to span two decades is bound to face hurdles when it comes to aging its characters. Unfortunately, the silly hair-style changes, bad make-up on the lead actors and little effort to age them in any way other than adding/removing sideburns or changing into flared jeans all add up to a disappointing and disruptive passage of time. Anne Hathaway plays Lureen, Jack’s wife, and while she is a beautiful, strong woman, for the most part her character is reduced to caricature. She becomes interesting solely because we can’t wait to see how much blonder the next couple of years will make her, rather than see her development. Michelle Williams plays Alma, Ennis’s fresh-faced and long-suffering wronged wife. Again, compared to the rest of the story’s subtlety, her character comes off as flat and stereotypical.

However, these critiques are of relatively small magnitude compared to the film overall. The story is just too good on its own to really be badly marred by underdeveloped secondary characters or bad wardrobe choices. Based on a short story written by Annie Proulx, “Brokeback Mountain” is touching without being overly sentimental and controversial without being too aggressive. Lastly, the ending is the best we’ve seen in a long time. Not because it is surprising (it really isn’t), but because it is so well under-acted that it brings the perfect closure to a movie that, as a whole, never acts as if it’s aware of the controversy surrounding it.

(Updated 01/21/08 NJ)

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