Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 1/8/06 w/ Additional Edits.
Throughout the world of gay cinema in independent films, the subject of homosexuality has been explored throughout whether in its anarchistic view of Gregg Araki, the Douglas Sirk setting of Todd Haynes, or to the elliptical, harrowing viewpoint of Gus Van Sant. By the mid-90s, independent films was definitely a great area to explore homosexuality as most films about gays have always been praised through the independent film community. Then in the mid-90s, the controversial cartoon show South Park commented in an episode about a Sundance film festival of sorts comes to South Park where Eric Cartman has complained that, "independent films are those black and white hippy movies. They're always about gay cowboys eating pudding." Well, years later since that infamous episode, Trey Parker and Matt Stone's take on independent films has finally come true. A movie about gay cowboys... who don't eat any pudding called Brokeback Mountain.
Based on a short story by Annie Proulx, Brokeback Mountain is a tale about two young men in the 1960s who work as ranchers as their feelings toward each other become something secretive. After years of separation and new wives, they would meet again for 20 years on as they come to term with their sexuality and feelings. Directed by acclaimed Taiwan director Ang Lee with a screenplay by Larry McMurty and Diana Ossana, Brokeback Mountain is more than a gay cowboy movie but something more about the exploration of love when homosexuality was taboo. Starring Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, Anna Faris, Linda Cardellini, and Randy Quaid. Brokeback Mountain is a poignant, elegant drama from the prolific Ang Lee.
It's 1963 in Signal, Wyoming as two young men are looking for work at a ranch. A ranch boss named Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid) comes in and hire the two men to run the herd of sheep into the mountains. Joe takes Ennis del Mar (Heath Ledger) to lead the pack as he is joined by a Texas boy named Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) where the two ride through the wave of mountains. While Jack is more outgoing about his dream to be a rodeo champion, Ennis prefers to keep things to himself. Immediately, the two work and work throughout the day watching the sheep and camping out. While Ennis hopes to use the work to raise money so he can marry his girlfriend Alma (Michelle Williams), he finds himself having good company with Jack as they drink and eat deer. Then during one cold night after a moment of drinking, Jack lets Ennis sleep in his tent where things get really comfortable.
At first, it becomes a denial stage but their growing feelings for each other gets stronger as Ennis begins to open up more about how he was raised by his siblings. During their job, Joe begins to look very suspicious about the closeness of Ennis and Jack as the two end their stint and the ranch. The time for them also ends as Jack hopes to see him again soon. One year later, Ennis marries Alma while Jack tries to return to Wyoming to meet Ennis for a ranching stint but is rejected while Ennis doesn't make it. Jack returns home to Texas where he catches the eye of rodeo princess Lureen Newsome (Anne Hathaway) as the two wed and raise a son. While Jack has a nice life in Texas, Ennis' life with Alma and their two daughters Alma Jr. and Jenny has its good and bad moments. Then one day, Ennis receives a letter from Jack as he asks to visit.
Jack drives up to Wyoming and meets Ennis for the first time in four years where Alma begins to see the two doing things that they're not supposed to do as fishing buddies. Through the years, Jack and Ennis would see each other and talk about their own lives at home during their trips to the mountains while coming home to their wives. The trips though proved to be more and more troubling in the years on as Ennis' family life goes into chaos while Jack's sexual tendencies starts to get to him as during another trip, their relationship becomes more troubling to hide.
While there have been many tales of homosexual romance and the tragic consequences, Brokeback Mountain is a film that handles the troubling circumstances in the most poignant way that doesn't carry the need for any explosive dramatics. Much of that credit goes to Ang Lee for his observant and restrained approach to directing the film since he allows more intimacy between the characters. Especially in how the film's story is told from the early 1960s to the early 80s where homosexuality was taboo. While the film doesn't break ground in the ideas of homosexuality in those times, especially in places like Texas and Wyoming. The film shows all the troubles that goes on in two men's attempt in maintaining a natural, loving relationship.
With a fantastic script by Diana Ossana and Larry McMurty, the film has a very interesting structure with the first act being these two young men meeting each other and falling in love while trying to claim in their words, "I ain't queer". The second act is where the film has a unique structure where it starts off the separate lives of Jack and Ennis and their relationships with their wives and children. The story moves back and forth to their own individual stories to the two coming together and talk about what's going on, especially a haunting story where Ennis reveals a thing he saw with his father. Then comes a very troubling third act where both men struggle with their sexuality and the different lives they lead outside of each other. Jack is more outgoing, content, and proud of who he is and where his life is as everything around him is great yet he wants more. He would wander off places and find things while Ennis' life is a lot harder and tougher since he keeps things to himself while trying to find something.
The direction by Ang Lee is exquisitely amazing since he aims for a natural feel and look to the film while his choice of locations are very inspiring, especially from those mountains where the film has an epic feel of sorts. Especially in its structure where he chooses to film an intimate moment without any music or everything else that's going on. Just a shot of these two men whenever they're talking or being silent. The ending of the film is pretty anti-climatic since the last shot just quiets everything down. It confirms the tragic nature of the film where the tragedy is the fact that despite these feelings for each other, Jack and Ennis couldn't be together because at that time, the idea of it is wrong. Especially in how Jack wants to and forget about what other people thinks yet "being queer" in places like Wyoming or in Texas in those times will certainly get these men killed. Even by 201, in those areas despite the fact that people are more aware of homosexuality, homophobia still goes on today.
Helping Ang Lee in his epic vision is Mexican cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto who does amazing work in many of the film's exterior scenes from his shots of the mountains on day and night to the fields of the west. His cinematography truly captures the American heartland at its finest while doing wonderful work in many of the film's interior scenes. Production designer Judy Becker and art director Laura Ballinger do a great job in contrasting the worlds of Jack and Ennis were Jack's home life is clean with all the fine things Lureen's family have and the down-home world of Ennis. Especially in how Becker designs the home of Alma and Ennis where everything that is broken or missing is all over the place. Costume designer Marit Allen also does great work in the costumes for the men with their blue jeans and cowboy hats to the different style of clothing from the women. Editors Dylan Tichenor and Geraldine Peroni do great work in the film's editing with wonderful dissolve and fading cuts that helps the film move in its 134-minute pacing along with some wonderful sound work from Eugene Gerty for capturing the atmosphere of the mountains and fields.
The film's music which is done by composer Gustavo Santaolalla is wonderful subtle and melancholic with its mix of acoustic guitars, country textures, and orchestral arrangements that doesn't overplay the drama while adding tension to what is going on. It's one of the most memorable and poignant score pieces. The soundtrack which includes additional work from Marcelo Zarvos features cuts from the likes of Willie Nelson, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, Rufus Wainwright, Merle Haggard, Tammy Wynette, and Steve Earle that plays to the film's world of the American heartland.
Finally, we have the film's superb cast that includes fine performances from Kate Mara, Cheyenne Hill, and Hannah Stewart as Ennis' eldest daughter Alma Jr. along with Sarah Hyslop and Brooklynn Proulx as the youngest daughter Jenny. Other performances from Graham Beckel and Mary Liboiron as Lureen' parents, Roberta Maxwell and Peter McRobbie as Jack's parents are all wonderful including David Harbour as a friend of Lureen. Anna Faris does a wonderful, scene-stealing performance as a talkative friend of Lureen named LaShawn who represents that upper class world that Jack lives in. Linda Cardellini is also great as Cassie Cartwright who tries to understand Ennis amidst the chaos of his life as she realizes how introverted he is. Randy Quaid is also great as the tough, conservative Joe Aguirre who sees things that he thinks is wrong as he does wonderful work in the film's early scenes.
While it's a small role in some sense, Anne Hathaway does wonderful work as Jack's wife Lureen with her fast-living, rich lifestyle who provides a nice sense of comfort and companionship Jack needed though she is unaware of who he really is. While her performance is not entirely great when she is forced to wear a wig, Hathaway manages to pull off a memorable and convincing performance of a woman unaware of everything while being devoted to her husband. The film's best performance truly goes to Michelle Williams as Alma. Williams pulls off all the emotional punches of a woman who is in shock at what she sees and her reaction is heartbreaking. Williams pulls off all the troubles of what she does since her character doesn't know what to think or what to do which leads to the chaos that her husband will have to go through. In her many scenes with real-life boyfriend Heath Ledger, the two have great chemistry together as Williams brings a career-making performance.
Finally, we have Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger who both bring the performances of their young career as the two protagonists trying to fall in love in a world that is very in those times. The chemistry of the two is very natural along with the tension they bring in their frustration over the outcome of their relationship when their characters get older. Jake Gyllenhaal has the more showy performance as the more extroverted Jack Twist since he likes to do crazy things and get into risky situations while at home in Texas, he lives that life while maintaining control. Including one scene about his son should be raised where he reveals who is boss. Gyllenhaal deserves a lot of credit for his performance. Heath Ledger is the more introverted and troubled performance as a man who doesn't talk much while being haunted by things around that he doesn't want to reveal. Ledger pulls off all the anger and strictness of a man who has a hard time dealing with himself while disconnecting himself from those around him including his wife and children. It's two great performances for those two young actors.
Brokeback Mountain is a brilliantly poignant and heartbreaking film from Ang Lee with a wonderful film team and a cast led by Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger, and Michelle Williams. While the film isn't groundbreaking to the works of Gus Van Sant or Todd Haynes, it's still one of the best love stories ever told. While it's likely that this film will or already inspire parody and in some cases, controversy. It's a movie that reveals on how far humanity has gone in the feeling of love between two men. It's a movie that must not be missed on how tragic the world was when everything seemed wrong as Ang Lee creates another great film in Brokeback Mountain.
Ang Lee Films: Pushing Hands - The Wedding Banquet - Eat Drink Man Woman - Sense & Sensibility (1995 film) - The Ice Storm - Ride with the Devil - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - The Hire: Chosen - Hulk - Lust, Caution - Taking Woodstock - Life of Pi - Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - The Auteurs #19: Ang Lee
(C) thevoid99 2011