Genre: Romantic Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 14 min.
Release Date: December 9th, 2005 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Ang Lee Actors: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Randy Quaid, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, Linda Cardellini, Anna Faris, David Harbour
itchhiking his way to Signal, Wyoming in 1963, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) stops off at the trailer office of Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid), looking for work for the summer. Waiting in the parking lot is Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), also seeking employment. As it turns out, a job awaits: thanks to pesky forest service regulations, Aguirre has been suffering unacceptable losses of his sheep to predators, but he’s intent on avoiding any other income hazards up on Brokeback Mountain, where his livestock grazes. Both men will tend to the flock, moving them across the landscape, but one will guard the herd more closely, sleeping amongst them during the nights, while the other keeps watch from afar – camping on the perimeter, handling supplies, and cooking food.
During the day, the two cowboys bond over dreams of owning their own spread in the future, answering to no one but themselves – and eating something fancier than the canned beans that compose the majority of their meals. But it’s not always quiet on the mountain; wolves and coyotes threaten the herd, while run-ins with bears are a regular possibility. The routines and the solitude give the duo plenty of opportunities to get to know one another, bringing them closer than they imagined and awaking an attraction neither anticipated.
Right from the start, the film favors long pauses with little dialogue, allowing audiences to interpret expressions and wordless interactions for themselves. This is clearly a performance-driven piece, demonstrating the two lead’s abilities to fall into their roles with exceptional naturalness (the supporting cast is praiseworthy as well). Of course, it’s not the acting alone that makes “Brokeback Mountain” a noteworthy endeavor; it’s a mainstream, star-studded examination of a homosexual (or bisexual) relationship (with a couple of somewhat graphic depictions) – something Hollywood infrequently banks on. Interestingly, it’s not the central romance or the situations surrounding it that are particularly unusual; rather, it’s merely the sexes of those involved that has led to the early buzz. Its view of sexuality is far more universal and emotional than just following along with easy, clearcut definitions. Comparably, the challenging of standard concepts of manliness are undoubtedly poignant, encouraging viewers to share in the uncertainty and fear experienced by those whose lifestyles don’t conform to dominant trends. “Boys should watch football.”
Fortunately, the love story itself holds water; like more typical tales of forbidden unions, the main characters contend with denial from themselves right alongside judgment from others, here aided by superbly convincing scripting. Keeping secrets isn’t an easy task, especially when societal pressures weigh in – as well as familial expectations and tensions. Their lives are supposed to take a predictable course, chiefly when it comes to marriage and children, but that runs in strict opposition to their suppressed but overpowering desires. “You boys sure found a way to make the time pass up there.”
Despite harboring notions of reuniting, ideally amid the isolation of the serene, green mountainside, Ennis and Jack’s lives steadily diverge. Years pass, with girlfriends Alma (Michelle Williams) and Lureen (Anne Hathaway), respectively, putting a greater physical distance between the men (in combination with employment prospects), with culturally traditional, “approved” relationships enabling them to momentarily convince themselves that what occurred while sheepherding was simply an aberration – or trapping them in conventional existences. As dramatic true-love yarns go, however, fated interactions are entirely unavoidable – and bound to be tinged with tragic revelations and developments (calculable but not unwelcome). It’s also more complex than the two cowboys struggling to hide their feelings; innocent significant others suffer from the rifts created by continued concealments and inconvenient truths, here made more potent by the decades-long span of time, which covers numerous, formative, major milestones. In the end, though it runs marginally overlong, it’s Ledger and Gyllenhaal’s turns that transform what is essentially a straightforward, perhaps unfluctuating (though nonetheless tender) love story into something remarkable and memorable – performances sure to garner Oscar nods.
– Mike Massie