Brokeback Mountain (2005) (R)
A cruel and unusual picture, "Brokeback Mountain" is also the juggernaut of modern cinema. For a movie that not everyone saw (in fact, some majorities boycotted the picture altogether, simply based on its source material) this film can strongly lay claim of being one of the more influential pieces of the 21st century cinematic history. I say "cruel and unusual" because the emotional impact of the film is not so sentimental that it makes you weep; but it does crawl inside you. It's almost stronger than anything else created. It's achingly beautiful, compressed, rife with jaw-dropping performances, and very aware of itself and its story. The lack of the tropes of a typical romance work in the film's favor, because it is a romance...but this also works against the audience. We build with the character, we feel what they feel, we are with them every step...when it's all over, the bitterness of history, the longing for self-hatred to be over—it's almost too much to take in.
Cheekily nicknamed "the gay cowboy" movie, "Brokeback Mountain" deserves a little more attention besides than just portraying something other than the heteronormative cliche. The first thing that strikes you about the picture—almost physically—is how beautiful it is. Set in Wyoming in the 1960s, the film manages to capture the grandeur of the American West with simple shots. The sky has never looked more majestic and the plains never so proud. John Ford's "The Searchers" is the only other movie that made the West look this great...and even that almost pales in comparison.
Two men shuffle into an office, looking for work. They are told that they have to go up to Brokeback Mountain and keep an eye on sheep for months on end. Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) is the more stoic of the two. He seems harder off on his luck and less wild than his partner, Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal). Jack is a former rodeo rider who spends most of his time with Ennis chatting and trying to impress. There is a level of masculine bravado that occurs when these two are put together.
What is truly amazing is how the film never falls into stereotypes. It never over plays on its many, many cards. One wrong turn and the movie could have fallen flat on its face, but it never takes that turn. It humanizes its two leads, it lets them breathe...it lets its audience breathe.
This can come across as a wee bit boring; but the film's visual attractiveness and the caliber of its performers are such that the story transcends into something deeply captivating.
I'm sure you all know what happens next...after a few weeks on the mountain together, struggling in routine and dealing with small problems, Jack and Ennis start to kindle a romance. They shrug it off for their own peace of mind, saying things like "I ain't queer" or "This is a one-shot deal". Clearly, both of them don't have a clue how to handle the situation.
Whether or not they are perfect examples of how to act in this situation, the society they live in is the largest factor in their movements here. "Oppression" hardly does it justice; but yet again, this a card that the film doesn't overplay.
But all good things must come to an end. Jack and Ennis separate after a few month on Brokeback Mountain and they each go their own ways. Ennis marries Alma (Michelle Williams) and the two of them have two daughters together; but Jack is never far from his mind.
While out competing in rodeos, Jack meets a girl named Lureen (Anne Hathaway) and they have a boy together.
Since the movie covers such a large amount of time, "Brokeback Mountain" may seem a bit glib with how its stars age. Indeed, if there is a problem with the movie, it's how twenty years hardly seems to phase either Jack or Ennis besides a little facial hair and a fake stomach.
Four years after Brokeback Mountain, a postcard from Jack arrives in the mail and the two may have a chance to meet again.
Ang Lee is the current day's most curious director. His track record has no feasible coherence to it; yet he places his mark on each genre as he dances from one to the next. Martial arts, period pieces, superhero movies, family dramas, westerns....it's almost unfair that he got all the talent.
"Brokeback Mountain" wouldn't survive if it weren't for its two leads. Much praise goes to Heath Ledger who finds a way to make Ennis Del Mar a fully realized character. He is so silent that it makes his performance as The Joker all the more chilling; yet Ennis is a warm spot in the actor's career.
Here, I find myself more impressed with Jake Gyllenhaal, who masterfully portrays the conflict of the movie. He embodies the secrets and the horrors and you can see it on his face. Jack lives in a fantasy world, where hate doesn't exist, while Ennis is much more pragmatic and Ledger and Gyllenhaal really pull out all the stops.
"Brokeback Mountain" has seeped into popular culture to the point where it might be easy to make fun of it now. But the movie's audacity is beyond anything of its contemporaries, and not just for the "controversy" some may see in it.
The movie is gentle and hard, it is emotional and unsentimental, it's beautiful and horrible...all the things you would expect in a challenging drama.
By the end of it all, you may not be able to joke about it anymore. Ang Lee's piece is a landmark in American cinema, and the picture more certain of itself than anything else you will likely ever come across.
Simply put, it has all the right facets to make it great; but it has an intangible magic that makes it classic.
Posted by Micah Jones