A review of “Brokeback Mountain” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ****

Rating: R for adult themes and sexuality

Run Time: 2 hours, 14 minutes

 

 

Ang Lee caps an impressive collection of eclectic work (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, “Sense and Sensibility”) with a lyrical tone poem of a movie that’s a haunting tribute to the great frontiers of love.

Controversy surrounds this emotional drama set against the sweeping majesty of Wyoming and the Texas heartland. The film unspools a tender tale of a dark and private affection between two cowboys that endures the test of time and travails.

Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) meet in the summer of 1963 as employees of surly ranch manager Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid). They spend a number of months in the wild wrangling sheep, battling fractious weather, and consuming endless tins of baked beans warmed by a campfire.

It’s a simple existence; manual labor in the face of an inevitable future of marriage, jobs, and raising families. The ranch-hand and rodeo cowboy go about their work with a singular dedication that grows into an easy camaraderie. That friendship ultimately turns to a provocative intimacy that taps deep into both men’s psyches.  

As summer draws to a close Jack and Ennis part ways and get swallowed up by life. Four years later Texas-based Jack finds himself en route to Wyoming and the pair arranges to meet, discovering that time has intensified their eloquent bond.

Lee works wonders with Annie Proulx’s evocative short story of the same name, squeezing every ounce of urgency, shame and passion out with craftily paced flow. The narrative traverses years of dissolved marriages, strained relationships and a burning desire tinged with a delicate dignity bordering on collapse.

Admittedly the film takes its sweet time to click; it’s subtly slack and slow to engage. Twangy guitar riffs occasionally rankle but I can’t shake the anguish of this brave and fractured love.

Ledger plumbs incredible depths of feeling to bring Ennis Del Mar to life; perpetually on the brink of crumbling by resisting the notion of embracing himself. His brooding hold on his flickering emotional flame is the subversive glue of his soul. Gyllenhaal is the ideal romantic foil, pushing the envelope as far as he dares in a time and place that knows no tolerance for such a curious arrangement.

The incessant tag of “the gay Western” offends; ground-breaking is more like it. Nuanced sentiment and genuine affection brand this as one of the most memorable films of the year.