A sad, melancholy ache pervades Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee’s haunting, moving film that, like his other movies, explores societal constraints and the passions that lurk underneath. This time, however, instead of taking on ancient China, 19th-century England, or ‘70s suburbia, Lee uses the tableau of the American West in the early ‘60s to show how two lovers are bound by their expected roles, how they rebel against them, and the repercussions for each of doing so—but the romance here is between two men. Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake…
A sad, melancholy ache pervades Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee’s haunting, moving film that, like his other movies, explores societal constraints and the passions that lurk underneath. This time, however, instead of taking on ancient China, 19th-century England, or ‘70s suburbia, Lee uses the tableau of the American West in the early ‘60s to show how two lovers are bound by their expected roles, how they rebel against them, and the repercussions for each of doing so—but the romance here is between two men. Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) are two itinerant ranchers looking for work in Wyoming when they meet and embark on a summer sheepherding job in the shadow of titular Brokeback Mountain. The taciturn Ennis, uncommunicative in the extreme, finds himself opening up around the gregarious Jack, and the two form a bond that surprisingly catches fire one cold night out in the wilderness. Separating at the end of the summer, each goes on to marry and have children, but a reunion years later proves that, if anything, their passion for each other has grown significantly. And while Jack harbors dreams of a life together, the tight-lipped Ennis is unable to bring himself to even consider something so revolutionary.
Its open, unforced depiction of love between two men made Brokeback an instant cultural touchstone, for both good and bad, as it was tagged derisively as the “gay cowboy movie,” but also heralded as a breakthrough for mainstream cinema. Amidst all the hoopla of various agendas, though, was a quiet, heartbreaking love story that was both of its time and universal—it was the quintessential tale of star-crossed lovers, but grounded in an ever-changing America that promised both hope and despair. Adapted by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana from Annie Proulx’s short story, the movie echoes the sparse bleakness of McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show with its fading of the once-glorious West; but with Lee at the helm, it also resembles The Ice Storm, as it showed the ripple effects of a singular event over a number of people. As always, Lee’s work with actors is unparalleled, as he elicits graceful, nuanced performances from Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway as the wives affected overtly and subliminally by their husbands’ affair, and Gyllenhaal brings surprising dimensions to a character that could have easily just been a puppy dog of a boy. It’s Ledger, however, who’s the breakthrough in the film, and his portrait of an emotionally repressed man both undone and liberated by his feelings is mesmerizing and devastating. Spare in style but rich with emotion, Brokeback Mountain earns its place as a classic modern love story. —Mark Englehart
Barnes and Noble
For all the fuss whipped up by the media about this “gay cowboy movie,” the fact is, Brokeback Mountain is nothing more or less than a star-crossed romance—a romance that just happens to involve two men. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal play young cowboys Ennis and Jack, who meet in the summer of 1963 while tending sheep in a remote Wyoming mountain range. Their initially awkward relationship blossoms into a torrid physical affair, and while the job comes to an end, their romance perseveres. Both men marry and raise families, but at periodic intervals over the next 20 years they slip away to join each other in fleeting attempts to recapture the bliss they felt all those years ago on Brokeback Mountain. The basis of this yarn is Annie Proulx’s wistful short story, which has been brilliantly adapted by screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana and translated to celluloid with unusual sensitivity by director Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), who won this year’s Best Director Oscar for his marvelous work. Contrary to the hoopla generated by the film’s attackers and defenders alike, Brokeback is neither a deconstruction of the “macho cowboy” myth nor an endorsement of the gay lifestyle. It does dwell on the secret sorrow that all too often accompanies closeted same-sex romances, and it doesn’t shy away from depicting the damage done to the lovers’ families. Michelle Williams, Ledger’s real-life significant other, delivers a tightly controlled, heartbreakingly poignant portrayal as Ennis’s wife, who is devastated by her accidental discovery of her husband’s secret love life. Anne Hathaway is nearly as good as the pampered, willful daddy’s girl who marries down-and-out rodeo rider Jack and takes him into the family business. In fact, there isn’t a weak performance in the film, and even such supporting players as Randy Quaid and Anna Faris make significant contributions in their limited screen time. An insightful drama that never descends to the tawdry or sensational, Brokeback Mountain richly deserves the plaudits it has received. Ed Hulse
Argentina-born, California-based Gustavo Santaolalla helped shape the rock en Español movement by producing Mexican bands Molotov and Café Tacuba , and Colombian singer Juanes. In the late 1990s he made a switch to soundtracks, working on well-received albums for Amores Perros and The Motorcycle Diaries. His instrumental contributions to Ang Lee’s tale of two cowboys in love are acoustic guitar-based and, let’s face it, a bit on the sonic-wallpaper side.
The vocal tracks, on the other hand, are uniformly lovely, even if the selection of…