Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Review by:
Bill Clark

Reviewed by:
On January 9, 2006
Last modified:July 6, 2014


Brokeback Mountain is a courageous, transcendent film that may prove to be a landmark down the line in the Hollywood landscape.

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

What a beautiful film. That’s what I kept thinking throughout Brokeback Mountain, a film that will stay with you for many days – and for many reasons. Out of all the attempts at realistic love stories we see each year, it’s actually quite a rarity to find one that hits all the right notes and seems truly real. Brokeback Mountain is such a treasure – a courageous, transcendent film that may prove to be a landmark down the line in the Hollywood landscape.

The film has already become a lightning rod for controversy regarding its subject matter of two sheep herding cowboys who share feelings for one another, but must hide it over the period of two decades as their lives go in different directions. In fact, a Utah theater, for reasons unknown, announced that it would not be screening the film just this past week after earlier announcing that they would be. Prime time cable pundits are weighing in with their heads held high on both sides of the tracks, and it seems like outright homophobia is the most popular (and most spun) reason for not wanting to see the film. That this type of dangerously old-fashioned thinking is still so widely prevalent is troubling, to say the least. Contrary to beliefs held by some individuals, the film does not have an agenda and certainly does not aim to offend.

Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) and Jack Twist (Gyllenhaal) are two sheepherders looking for work in Signal, Wyoming. They are hired by Joe Aguirre (Quaid) for a summer with strict instructions to ensure that the sheep loss is minimal. Armed with a tent, a few guns, and a whole lot of baked beans, the two spend a hazardous summer in the barren landscape. On one cold evening, the two have sex. Both insist that they aren’t “queer” and that it is a “one shot deal.” A kiss soon follows. The summer ends early, and the two part ways.

The bulk of the film deals with the after-effects of that summer as the two grow older. Ennis stays in Wyoming and marries grocery store worker Alma (Williams) while Jack moves to Texas and gets hitched to Lureen Newsome (Hathaway), whose wealthy family is a seller of large farm equipment. Ennis and Jack stay in touch via postcards and see each other a handful of times a year, usually for a high altitude tryst. The two must confront their feelings as the years go by and it becomes more and more difficult to hide their affections from not only their spouses, but the whole world.

While sporting two audacious and perfect performances from its leads, it is Ang Lee’s direction for Brokeback Mountain that is the truly stunning achievement. Never have the mountains of Alberta, Canada (doubling as Wyoming – thanks to reader BAC for clarifying this) looked so lush and beautiful as they do here. After a topsy-turvy first twenty minutes or so, the film really gets going and Lee never lets the viewer go. His direction is leisurely paced, but undeniably focused. The way he paints the portrait of the characters’ lives is nothing short of mesmerizing, particularly in the tragic and haunting final act. The story in and of itself is unforgettable, but Lee’s direction is a masterwork of modern cinema.

Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal both turn in career best performances, but it is Ledger who will probably garner the most attention and may earn himself a gold trophy. His turn as Ennis is resolute and realistic. He captures the humble Ennis with grace, particularly in a scene when his character chooses to try and distance himself more and more from Jack. Gyllenhaal is just as impressive in his transformation, with it all coming together in a heartbreaking monologue late in the film. Magnificent supporting work is turned in by Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway, with Williams emerging as a true dramatic force.

Brokeback Mountain is a beautifully subdued and masterful piece of work in every facet of film making. While clearly not having the intention to be a milestone film, it is one, and in turn is one of the best films so far this decade. Those who choose not to see it based solely on the homosexual content are obviously free to make their own choice, but don’t come bellyaching to me saying that there aren’t any good movies out there.


Studio: Focus Features
Length: 134 Minutes
Rating: R for sexuality, nudity, language and some violence.
Theatrical Release: September 3, 2005 (Telluride Film Festival) / December 9, 2005 (Limited) / December 16, 2005 (Wide)
Directed by: Ang Lee
Written by: Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana. Based upon the short story by E. Annie Proulx.
Cast: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Randy Quaid, Anne Hathaway, Michelle Williams, Linda Cardellini




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