In truth, what you've probably heard is only partially true. Calling Brokeback Mountain "a movie about gay cowboys" is a vast generalization that doesn't do its subject matter justice. In conservative 1963 Wyoming, two farm hands are hired to guard the flock of Randy Quaid's sheep rancher Joe Aguirre up on the mountain of the title. Heath Ledger is the strong and silent Ennis Del Mar, and Jake Gyllenhaal is Jack Twist, the sad-eyed part-time rodeo rider. From here we're given a long and slow paced first act (after all, would you buy two tough guys jumping into bed immediately after the credit sequence, outside a gay porn?) during which Ennis and Jack begin to open up to each other and become best friends. It's a believable build up, powered by excellent acting and carefully planned dialogue. One cold night, friendship turns into love and the two roughnecks become uncomfortable lovers.
What is picket-line striking about this movie is how well director Ang Lee handles this repressed romance. What could have devolved into "Homo on the Range" is instead handled as a tasteful love story against odds and society. There are also no stereotypes or easy, simplistic categories in which to fold these two men. Especially after both men get married we realize that these guys aren't so easily boiled down to the term "gay cowboys". Let's call them... um... cowbis! As the film traverses twenty years of life between these two families, Ennis and Jack see each other as often as possible on their Brokeback Mountain "Fishing Trips". Over time these long-distance lovers go from an uneasy couple afraid of what they might be to a strange inversion of an "old married couple".
While this is a well directed and well written film (Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana beautifully render E. Annie Proulx's original short story), Brokeback Mountain is a film that thrives on its fine, fine acting. Gyllenhaal amazingly captures the conflict of a sad and longing man faced with a secret that could get him killed. He delivers his lines in a steady and dignified southern accent with an uncommon range of emotions. While Jake's always been great, this is a stand out performance that builds upon itself block by block, whether in lust, rage, or complete silence.
Heath Ledger is absolutely incredible as Ennis. Ennis' tense self-deprivation and quiet dignity both break at the right times to show his rich depth and passion. There is no flamboyant Liberace waiting to burst out of this man. Ennis Del Mar is the tough, gritty Wyoming Ranch Hand and a masculine, loving husband and father. He's also secretly in love with a man. It's not an easy part to act. Ledger isn't an easy actor, and won't be seen as such after this. He's different in every part. You have to see this one!
A special salute must be given to the wives in this film (and not just because we get to see them both topless)! Anne Hathaway's Lureen Newsome Twist is the evolving, yet detached spouse who can't understand Jack's constant disappearances back to Wyoming. Michelle Williams' Alma Beers Del Mar is the struggling working mom with only her husband to rely on for stability. As she gets to be more and more suspicious, her shaken stability shows in her face. Both of these actresses seem to treat their characters as cuckolded wives, dealing with adultery in their own individual ways. Neither woman treats this as anything but being cheated on (to the extent that they are aware of what's going on at what time), and the fact that "the other woman" is actually "the other man" is irrelevant, really. Trust me... if your husband has a chance to cheat with Anna Faris and goes for his sheep-herdin' buddy instead... he gay. He gay. He ain't bi, he gay! Liberace would look at him and say "Damn, what a queen!"
As great as this is, this is not a movie for everyone, and I'm not simply talking about the homophobic out there. It doesn't make one homophobic to not be interested in this type of film. This isn't your standard "gay flick", and it's certainly not your typical Hollywood film either. Obviously this is finding its audience but some may be confused by the subject matter and the disconnected timelines that stretch over two decades. Although there is some well-placed comic relief that avoids breaking up an already fractured story line, this is no "dramedy" like Jeffrey or Priscilla. It's not a movie for the closed minded, or the dim witted. If you can follow it, and have the patience and understanding to let this story be told, you may actually love it.
Four and One Half Stars out of Five for the beautiful yet bleak, Brokeback Mountain. The real story here is one of love in the face of a world that can't accept the form of that love. Because that same world produced both Ennis and Jack, the conflict is both within, and without. While this isn't the standard stock-accessible whoreywood flick for everyone, I personally loved the film. As secure as I am, though, I'm still willing to admit how much hotter this one would have been starring Maggie Gylenhaal and Kate Ledger! But then, of course, it'd be a totally different movie... I'm... um, I think I'm going to start writing that screen play right now!
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