Casual ranch-hand Ennis (Heath Ledger) and rodeo cowboy Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) meet on a seasonal job at Wyoming's Brokeback Mountain in the summer of 1963, looking after a flock of sheep. They forge the camaraderie of isolated men, but it soon turns into something more intense. They remain in contact through two decades, even after Ennis weds his childhood sweetheart Alma (Michelle Williams). Over in Texas, Jack meets and marries rodeo queen Lureen (Anne Hathaway). Both couples have children. If confused at first about their affection for each other, the men continue to keep up appearances as fishing buddies, meeting a few times over each year, as they journey through lives never fulfilled, often conflicted, yet always drawn together.
Review by Louise Keller:
A haunting and complex story that explores the strength and fragility of love, Ang Lee's visually magnificent film is as affecting as it is beautiful. Like its spectacular setting of mountains, forests and lakes, there are peaks and troughs to the central relationship, as its two characters battle against social acceptance and struggle with their own demons. Lee tells this universal story of the joys and ache of love with unbridled passion and sense of place. Although Annie Proulx's story spans twenty years, the central core of love and yearning remains a constant. In the best role of his career to date, Heath Ledger's Ennis conveys the intricacies of the emotional torture he is going through. He is the reluctant one, whose upbringing has shackled him to conservative views of love, sex and commitment. Jake Gyllenhaal's Jack is openly vulnerable, intuitively knowing what is right for him and being prepared to act on it.
When they first meet, they are two young men simply looking for a job. Thrown together herding sheep in the extremes of climate on Brokeback Mountain, it's the unexpected chill in the air that leads them to the same tent, when passion envelops them like a blanket. Ennis rejects their night of intimacy, muttering 'It's a one shot thing we got going here... I ain't queer,' reassuring himself of his upcoming nuptials. Jack's heart is more plainly on display, and the symbolism of that memorable scene when he lassos Ennis in playful jest, is unmistakable.
Brokeback Mountain is the place where their love ignites and becomes the safe haven when they return again and again over the years. The 'other' lives that both men invest in with wives, children and lovers are incidental to the almost claustrophobic magnetism they have for each other.
All the performances ring true and we understand the plight of all the characters. There's the pain of Ennis' young wife Alma (Michelle Williams), when her secure world is shaken, and the compassion in the eyes of Jack's mother, when a simple look conveys the world of understanding. Anne Hathaway plays Jack's wife, whose relationship could be equally be conducted by telephone.
It seems almost trite to call this meaningful and epic love story a 'gay western'. While the central themes may include a homosexual theme, this is a story about meaningful love and the enormity of commitment. Mesmerising throughout, this is a truly magnificent film that lingers and affects meaningfully.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A bond that's a secret is more powerful than one open to the world, and doubly so if it's secret for more than one reason. Annie Proulx's short story makes for a riveting film about the complexity of human nature, relationships, love, bigotry and betrayal. This secret bond forms when Ennis and Jack, both lonely men when they meet, are isolated in a majestic setting. To their confused surprise - and ours - these two hitherto heterosexual cowboys discover an attachment that is more complicated than sex, but certainly bound up with it.
In a sense, Proulx is exploring the essence of that human mystery we call love across the gay/straight divide, as if to argue that nobody understands love, whether we are talking about straight or gay or, as in this case, bi. But the film is engorged by many more layers, as we track back and forth the landscapes of Wyoming and Texas, gradually responding to the impact of the land on the characters. We learn briefly of their love-starved backgrounds, and get a sense of the narrow minded society in which they struggle to find their inner selves.
A melancholy mood haunts the film, despite its sensational landscapes, as the internal and intimate scenarios, only captured through the eyes of the characters and their scant words, their arbitrary actions, grow ever more conflicted. Ang Lee keeps the focus very much on the two Ennis and Jack, but always places them in their social and physical context, so that we are aware of the bigger picture as time passes, but remain close up to the emotions of the two friends.
The film won the Golden Lion at Venice (2005) and will surely win many more hearts, with its compassion, observation and splendid filmmaking. It's a grand work of lasting value.
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HEATH LEDGER & ANG LEE INTERVIEW
BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (M)
CAST: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Linda Cardellini, Anne Hathaway, Michelle Williams, Randy Quaid
PRODUCER: Diana Ossana, James Schamus
DIRECTOR: Ang Lee
SCRIPT: Larry McMurty, Diana Ossana (story by Annie Proulx)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Rodrigo Prieto
EDITOR: Geraldine Peroni, Dylan Tichenor
MUSIC: Gustavo Santaolalla
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Judy Becker
RUNNING TIME: 134 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 26, 2006