Brokeback Mountain Movie Review

The first thing you're likely to hear about Brokeback Mountain, the new film from Ang Lee, is that it's about gay cowboys. Truthfully, that's all the novelty it has to offer. Just the thought of screen hunks Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal making out is a point of sale or controversy, depending on your point of view. But once you get past the hook, what emerges is a much more traditional, but no less affecting, tragedy about two people who simply cannot have what they want.

Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) and Jack Twist (Gyllenhaal) meet while working for Joe Aguirre (a menacing Randy Quaid), looking after sheep on the eponymous mountain. Their friendship develops over fairly archetypal lines. Ennis is the stoic one, Jack the mischievous one. Lee wisely lets this develop naturally over time. Ultimately, though, in a burst of passion, the two reveal what's been simmering since they first saw each other.

Once Jack and Ennis return to their everyday worlds, an aching futility creeps in. They separate and attempt to settle down and live "normal" lives, meeting clandestinely on the mountain that brought them together. But nothing will ever be the same for either man.

Lee brings his A-game, combining the romantic texture of Sense and Sensibility and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with the awkward realism of The Ice Storm. He doesn't shy away from the graphic lust these two have for each other any more than he does the lush grandeur of the surroundings in which their love blossoms. To the latter end, Rodrigo Prieto, a cinematographer usually known for grittier fare such as 21 Grams, contributes some of the most gorgeous images of Lee's oeuvre.

The performances are equally compelling. Anne Hathaway and Michelle Williams give career-best turns as the wives of Jack and Ennis respectively, suffering in their own ways through quietly disastrous marriages. Gyllenhaal's contribution admirably overcomes increasingly distracting make-up jobs that resemble a high school play's attempt at aging a character.

Ledger gives the film's most complex, engrossing portrayal. Ennis presents himself as a more conventional male stereotype than Jack, so the tension between his John Wayne persona and his sexuality is all the more demanding. Ledger favors nuance in depicting this struggle, with powerful results.

The screenplay, adapted from the Annie Proulx short story by Diana Ossana and Lonesome Dove novelist Larry McMurtry, divides into two parts. The first is a nearly self-contained encounter tale. The second follows the characters through decades of betrayal and compromise. Though chronologically disparate, these pieces fit together nicely through the writers' choices, highlighting moments that reveal the growth not only of the love affair, but of the characters themselves.

The love story depicted in Brokeback Mountain is as traditional as that depicted in Casablanca, Romeo & Juliet, or Gone with the Wind, but instead of war, family rivalry, or the general bitchiness of one of the characters getting in the way, societal prejudice is the culprit. This is not to say that the film explicitly attempts to make some sort of statement about gay rights or social injustice. If anything, the film's unswerving focus on the relationship, treating it with the same narrative respect reserved for Rhett and Scarlett or Harry and Sally, is a statement in and of itself. That Lee, Ledger, and everyone else involved are in top form elevates this film from mere gimmick to a work of universal substance, earning its heartbreak every step of the way.

Reviewed at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.

The DVD includes only a few extras: Three making-of featurettes and a pair of interviews with the screenwriters.

I most certainly do not.

Comments

thommo's picture

thommo

Who are this 90% who find it disgusting? I love/sleep with/have relationships with other blokes (I don't really like the term gay as it suggests a cultural identity choice but have never thought it an issue to keep quiet about), have lived my whole life in London, travelled the world, have a large family, a huge group of friends - mostly straight probably - and am good friends with the people I work with. I can count the number of people who have genuinly shown disgusted hatred towards me on one hand. Maybe this 90% all live in Noneck Virginia and not in the modern world. Educate yourselves people.

8 years 9 months ago
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thommo's picture

thommo

Where has your country's morals gone? Sorry to bring this up, as it's a cliche, but could we start with illegal wars, gun crime, rigged voting, failure to comply with environmental agreements? Also, to all the people who are banging on about this film representing America's moral low - have you actually seen it? Whatever happened to not judging another until you've walked a day in their shoes? And why do I feel like this is falling on deaf ears? Love to you all X

8 years 9 months ago
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Gypsymuse's picture

Gypsymuse

This movie leveled me awe-struck. I was amazed at the compelling emotions between two consenting adults simply falling in love. Where my headache comes in, is where among these posts I see the bigotry and ignorance from those who are manipulated by their brainwashed christian belief system. If someone for once could look past the shell of two people and actually acknowledge the passion and the deliverance of the film. It has a unique aesthetic value of its own. The beauty of the cinematography only enhances the film's setting. I agreed with the review of this movie regarding how Lee chooses not to approach the gay rights issue; however, I believe that in such an approach you can also witness how bigotry against gay people and how they choose to live, will not only hurt them, but those around them as they try to live a lie that society enforces them to live.

8 years 9 months ago
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Kees Franc's picture

Kees Franc

A stepping stone for the gay community.It is so rewarding to see what's been accomplished in just a few decades.I know, I was there tru all of it; in liberal Holland, no less.So now we have a Golden Globe and maybe an Oscar.And in a few years the gay issue won't be important at all anymore.So for the gay-haters out there:we are NOT going to go away, so deal with it.

8 years 9 months ago
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jshush's picture

jshush

Can I just add that it's this kind of religious hatred that causes the mass slaughter of thousands of people in the world trade centre.The Al-Qieda believe that Westerners are immoral and will perish with exactly the same confidence and hatred as you believe homosexuals will.But I'm wasting my breath.

8 years 9 months ago
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blingjlobling's picture

blingjlobling

first of all i would just like to say that i never thought i would see a big budget gay love story in my lifetime wow how we have evolved!it looks like hollywood is ready to take on gay love stories because i was expecting far less than what was delivered,power emotion love and great actors that put on a show that the world will see and respect for years to come this film is a landmark for things to come and word has it that brad pitt has already shown interest in a few gay scripts that would usually be cast asidebut with 8 oscar nominations you would have to be stupid not to realize the huge gap in the market for these kind of filmsso if you hate gay people then do not watch this film (your brain is too small and you will never understand)but if you are a true lover of love and are the kind of person that lives and let lives then you will be blown away buy a great great film.

8 years 8 months ago
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seeker's picture

seeker

Go in peace !!! If the subject of this movie brings you anger then you neither have a clear understanding of it or the bible.

8 years 7 months ago
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QuiteHappy's picture

QuiteHappy

Why is it that those extreme religious people (Christians as well as Islamic) feel "they" (heterosexuals) are the creation of God or Allah, but the homo- or bisexuals not.For the record, I (gay) was born out of two heterosexuals, just like my brothers and sister.We are all raised protestant, and although for some of certain Christians and Islamics out there it might be hard to accept: we consider ourselves from the same creator.We all are here on this planet to forfil our destiny. Some people become special in their lives. Very special because of what they can do or what they might mean or become to others. The destiny of gay people is that they do not have the urge to multiply. Instead they can put their energy in other things: developping their creativity, entertaining female friends without harrassing them, being dear uncles and aunties to nieces and nephews, being caring sons and daughters to their eldering parents ....I am happy to be one of those chosen ones, the fortunate ones, and I am happy to be regarded as such by my extensive family and my many many friends (all over the globe) and my co-workers. I am happy with my fulfilling life and myself.It is sad to read all the hatred and prejudiced by some people, and to realize that there are many gay people out there who are probably not as happy as I am.As for Brokeback Mountain:This is a love story. A tragic love story of two men. So many negative words, whenever it appears the male charachters apparently love or care for one another.On the other too many movies are released about heroism in wars, machoism, crooks who are so smart to rob banks or other people, men seducing women of others or as much women as possible, infidelity .... and then no one seems to point towards the bible or koran.

8 years 9 months ago
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irishmeow's picture

irishmeow

Brokeback Mountain...hmmm, why would 2 men doing unnatural acts attract so much venom? Maybe it's because it is an unnatural act. Why is it that when someone states their displeasure and back up their opinion with the Bible, there is so much venom shot at them? Hmmmm...is it because deep within one's self there is a spot and a split second glimmer that actually says that they could be right? I believe that this is just one more example of Hollywood manipulating society to accept an even further degredation of our morals and limits. Look back in history to societies that have fallen to this point of view...Sodom and Gomorrah was an actual city that disappeared...Babylon, the Mayan culture, the fall of Rome, Pompeii, etc...look, see, these types of acts were an intrical part of their society...just leave the bible warnings out....it is the sign of a society that has crossed all lines and has let in ALL influences, and begins to disintegrate from the interior out. I believe the USA is in the grips of this...it is rotting from the inside out...no social limits. Don't spit venom at people with a different point of view, they are entitled to disagree or agree. What worries me is the fall of a great country that began on such good principles. The way down is a slippery slope.

8 years 9 months ago
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welshwitch's picture

welshwitch

It's a beautiful movie in technical terms; in thematic ways it's about so much more than gay sex. It spoke to me about America and the dream in the same way as Gatsby, for example, and showed the relentless pressure to conform which seems to bedevil American society, not just about sex but about so many areas where one has to be a regular guy ( or gal. It's one of the few things I loathe about the US.As far as the love story is concerned, love comes upon us unexpectedly at times and in places where we least expect it. Wherever and however it's found, it's the greatest gift; I'm not GLBT but I don;t frrl ny desire to insult or demonise those who are.

8 years 7 months ago
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Brokeback Mountain Rating

" Essential "

Rating: R, 2005

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