Brokeback Mountain (15)



Romance (2005)
134mins US

Starring: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway
Director: Ang Lee
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

Ranch hands Jack Twist and Ennis del Mar cross paths one summer, both looking for work on the mountainside. Struggling to disavow the homosexual desire which draws them together in ultra-macho 1960s Wyoming, Jack and Ennis are torn between their true feelings and their affection for their wives Alma and Lureen. Over the course of 20 years, the two men wrestle with their inner demons, unable to stop themselves gravitating towards one another.

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LondonNet Film Review

Marboro-Man Romance
Brokeback Mountain transforms a "gay cowboy drama" into a classic American love story...

Brokeback Mountain, immediately labeled "the gay cowboy drama" in media and public discourse, unavoidably carries with it more hot-button issues than any film should probably ever try to cover. The brilliance of this film, then, is that it doesn't bother trying to explain any of them.

Yes, this is a film about two men in love. Yes, those men work as ranch hands in a beautifully shot and realized Wyoming countryside. Yes, the film takes place in the socially, morally, and sexually suffocated society of the Marlboro-Man American West of the 1960s and 70s.

Despite and because of these facts, Brokeback Mountain avoids being lost in the slew of cultural debates it itself sparks by focusing simply and unapologetically on the love that two people share. The world around them, whether it be their wives or their shared cultural taboos, is not critiqued. Instead, it is presented for what it is: an unavoidable force in shaping and maintaining their relationship.

This love is shared by Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist, played respectively by a heart-wrenching Heath Ledger and an ever-reliable Jake Gyllenhaal. They meet in 1963 after being hired to herd sheep for the summer on the title mountain. Their bond is quick and inescapable, as both men serve as perfect counterparts to the other.

Ennis is emotionally cut off to the point that he doesn't speak his words as much as he inhales them. His contributions to conversations with Jack very rarely amount to more than head nods, grunts, and the deep philosophical wonderings of how long both will be able to last living only on beans. But, as Jack's confidence, boisterousness and sincerity manage to lower Ennis' defenses, the men suddenly and quite violently find themselves succumbing to the desires each has been harboring yet voraciously trying to suppress.

The true tragedy of this film lies in Ennis. Ledger conveys a lifetime's worth of longing, passion, and self-loathing in facial expressions so tragic and believable that it's difficult to understand how his talents had until this point gone so relatively untapped.

After their first sexual encounter, in a moment of rare introspection, Ennis tells Jack of when, as a child, his father showed him the end result of the murder of a local man who was suspected of being homosexual. Ledger shows perfectly how damaging it is that such powerful feelings could deserve such an end.

In this way, the film neither attacks nor avoids the greater issues surrounding it. Director Ang Lee does not take the short cut of demonizing the film's other characters, who find themselves outside of this love looking in, unable to understand or truly accept it, but also genuinely intrigued by its grit and strength.

Michelle Williams is flawless as Ennis' wife, Alma, who never really stops struggling to understand this completely alien side of her husband, even after witnessing this foreign and forbidden love first hand and eventually divorcing him because of it. In her heart, she is more jealous than repulsed, unable to fathom why she can never fully win her husband's love. Anne Hathaway, as Jack's wife, digresses from a wide-eyed Texas rodeo princess to a cold, cynical shell of her former self - well enough to quickly make irrelevant her PG Disney past.

The film has already won four Golden Globes, including nods for Best Drama and Best Director. It has also been nominated for nine BAFTAs, and the film is securely in position as the favourite for the Academy Awards in March. Nominations are announced on the 31st January.

The essential focus of the film, however, remains watching Ennis struggle tragically and unsuccessfully to allow himself to be happy. "I wish I knew how to quit you," Jack laments to him on one of their secret mountain trysts. Watch as both find a tragic comfort in knowing that neither will ever fully be able to do so.

Patrick Allegri


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