Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain.
The very first American movie The Great Train Robbery was released 102 years ago this month. Not surprisingly it was a Western, made in 1903 only a generation removed from the actual Wild West. The release of Brokeback Mountain in 2005 marks another milestone in American cinema. For the first time audiences will experience a realistic and completely believable love affair between cowboys.
Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) and Jack Twist (Gyllenhaal) are young cow pokes looking for work in the summer of 1963 in Wyoming. They get hired to tend sheep together on Brokeback Mountain. Over the course of the summer they form a friendship that turns suddenly to passion one cold night. And so begins the great love affair of both these men's lives. When their idyllic summer comes to an early end however the two men go their separate ways.
Both men get married to a woman and become fathers. After a few years they reunite and begin going on “fishing" trips a couple of times a year in order to be together. Jack is more open and self-aware. He easily envisions a world with him and Ennis living together. Ennis is more a product of his times and environment. Also he experienced an incredibly traumatic childhood encounter with homophobia. Their stolen time away together is all he will commit to.
Heath Ledger gives an iconic performance as Ennis Del Mar. He is the least stereotypical gay (or bisexual) character ever portrayed on the screen. He mumbles -when he speaks at all- and slouches around with the perfect cowboy gait. Jake Gyllenhaal is perfect as the more outgoing Jack Twist. He's a rodeo cowboy who likes to whoop it up after throwing back a few. He brings Ennis out of his shell. The two actors have much sizzle and chemistry together, picture Butch and Sundance making love and you've just about got it.
Ang Lee directs with a great eye for the surrounding countryside. The cinematography shines throughout the movie. And though this isn't a classic Western in terms of action it has enough iconic elements of the genre to qualify.
I have no idea how this movie will be received by straight audiences. What I do know is that Brokeback Mountain deeply moved me with its achingly beautiful love story and by the absolutely riveting performances of its two leads.
Michelle Williams in Brokeback Mountain.
Patrick is right that Brokeback Mountain is a great movie, but it is not completely without fault as his enthusiasm for it would lead you to believe. Its flaws are minor, and do little to detract from the fact that this is one of the best movies of the year, but they are there.
Perhaps the most noticeable flaw is the running time. At 2 and a quarter hours in length, the movie contains some padding that could and should have been trimmed. The first half of the movie is nearly perfect, but after Ennis and Jack part ways after that fateful summer on the mountain and drift in to their separate lives, the story tends to meander a little too slowly. The subplot with Ennis' daughter for instance, could have been cut completely.
One thing that Patrick doesn't exaggerate in his review is Ledger's performance. Like your stereotypical cowboy he's a man of few words, but you always know what he's feeling. Gyllenhaal does a fine job as Jack, but he is completely overshadowed by Ledger. And in the later scenes when the characters are meant to have aged, Ledger is believable while Jake never quite carries off, he just seems like a young actor in makeup.
Michelle Williams, whom Patrick failed to mention at all, gives a terrific performance in a fairly small part as Ennis' wife. It's a role that seems likely to earn her an Oscar nomination, if not a win.
The greatest thing about Brokeback Mountain is that while it is a groundbreaking movie in terms of content, it never plays itself that way. It is simply a love story in which the two people in love just happen to be of the same sex.
Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain.
I did not find Brokeback Mountain to be as great a movie that Patrick and Scott wrote about. Like Scott, I felt it was way too long, and the pacing is sometimes far too slow. I disagree that the part with his daughter could have been cut. His daughter's character marks the passage of time and demonstrates that Ennis was not a great father and makes him more human.
I agree that Ledger is amazing in his role and deserves all the accolades that he has been given. He under plays his part for the entire movie and lets little moments speak for themselves. Some of the most effective scenes in this movie are implied and not overstated. The look on Williams face when Ennis announces he's going fishing with Jack speaks volumes. How Lureen tells Ennis about what happened to Jack is far more telling than the actual words she uses. Ang Lee deserves the Oscar for best director.
The cast is amazing as Patrick and Scott wrote. After doing several kids movies, such as Princess Diaries and Ella Enchanted, I was surprised by Anne Hathaway's nude scene.
Although the gay (bisexual) angle of the movie has been much discussed, it is not the real point of the movie. Brokeback Mountain is about regret and missed opportunities. Ennis and Jack missed out on a life time of happiness. Ennis also missed out on being close to his daughters. Jack tried desperately to have that happiness while Ennis resigned himself to misery. The shirt Ennis finds is so amazingly symbolic of the possibilities of what could have been. It made Jack think of what could be and Ennis think of what was.
Brokeback Mountain is beautifully shot and well acted, but the plot takes far too long to get to where it wants to go.
Photos © Copyright Focus Features (2005)