Film Reviews

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN

By • Dec 9th, 2005 •

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A Focus Features and River Road Entertainment presentation

QUOTE: Not a weepy gay love story. It’s about fighting, then fucking.

I saw the film twice. Not fearing the wrath of the gay community (I didn’t like RENT so I got hundreds of emails accusing me of being anti-gay – which I am absolutely NOT! – enough said!), I must say I thought BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN was sensational, but not a weepy, romantic story of forbidden love. This is not the gay love-sick story you have been hearing about. What BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is really about is male domination and sexual passion. The two men engage in “fighting, then fucking.”

There are no love letters, long phone calls, or love poems. There are no sad-eyed gazes in public places.

These two dirt-poor cowboys, EnnisDel Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) are masculine men trying to eke out a living in Wyoming. They meet in 1963 applying for summer work herding sheep on Brokeback Mountain for crude-wise rancher Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid). He warns them it is tough work. Against rancher regulations, one of them must stay with the grazing sheep while the other keeps a one-man tent base camp.

Out on the bitter cold mountain, neither man talks much. What are they going to talk about? Their hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow? One freezing night Ennis comes back to camp. Jack tells him he can sleep in the small tent. Jack makes the first move – ever so slight – and Ennis grapples him and quickly turns him over. It’s fast and down and dirty. There is no kissing.

Ennis says “I’m not no queer.” Hey, I don’t want to suggest otherwise, but cowboys and kids living on farms know a lot about the various methods of sexual release not deemed gay or bestial. (A respected famous friend of mine who did counseling with high schoolers in West Virginia said she was often asked quite openly by the kids if one could get AIDS from having sex with animals.)

Ennis and Jack have the kind of rough sex that is exactly the way men have sex with men without losing their male sexual identity. What develops in their 20 year relationship of meeting 2 to 3 times a year is deemed man’s play: fishing, hunting, and sex.

Okay. They don’t fish or hunt.

There are no love letters or even phone calls. A postcard is sent: “See you in August.” What kind of weepy, great romance is this? Each man returns to their lives: Jack is a rodeo rider who luckily marries a wealthy man’s daughter, Lureen (Anne Hathaway). He begins living the good life. While under the rich man’s thumb, he lives a life of means beyond his abilities. He grows a mustache. He gets the little gut of a well-tended man. Ennis stays in Wyoming and marries Alma (Michele Williams). Doesn’t her name say it all? Ennis is barely making a living. Alma has to work at a convenience store. They have two girls and live barely above a laundry.

Jack wants to dump his wife, son, and job and move with Ennis to a ranch. Even as they meet every year for their foray “fishing,” not once does he offer to help out the great love of his life. How about buying poor Ennis a used truck with 100,000 miles on it? Why not invite Ennis and his family to an all-expenses paid-for trip to Texas? Imagine letting the great forbidden love of your life live with one pair of jeans to his name?

Jack accepts his sexual appetites and finds ways to indulge them away from his disgruntled wife, who, in my opinion, knows the truth. She’s bitter. And while Jack wants a life with Ennis, we are shocked to find out his love is not exclusive. In fact, there are surprises.

I was worried BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN would be a cop-out. It’s not. There is hardly any oral sex between these two. Why? Isn’t this fascinating? Gyllenhaal has the more daring role – Jack knows who he is. I never was fond of Gyllenhaal’s acting and choice of film roles but his performance here is outstanding. He has matured under Lee’s skillful hand. Ledger’s performance has gotten all the praise and rightfully so. He has the more complex role. Clearly, I agree with Ledger’s decision to take on this role. What did he have to lose? Williams is astonishing. Her wounded Alma is worthy of an Academy Award.

This is the best film of the year. Not because, as had been diversely said by detractors, it is a “gay recruiting film,” but because it is a realistic look at men who cannot live openly and how it affects the people around them. A powerful screenplay, a ruthless director, and brave performances. What more can we ask for? The screenwriters, Larry (LONESOME DOVE) McMurtry and Diana Ossana, have developed and enriched Anne Proulx’s 1997 New Yorker short story. I congratulate everyone involved, especially Ledger and Gyllenhaal, for bringing this hard-edged adaptation to the screen.

Postscript: Asked by the San Francisco Bay Times whether he thought the gay subject matter could have a negative impact on the careers of Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, director Ang Lee responded, “I don’t care if this movie dooms the rest of their careers . . . All I cared about was that they performed for me.”


Credits:
Director: Ang Lee
Screenplay: Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana
Based on the short story by: Annie Proulx
Producers: Diana Ossana, James Schamus
Executive producers: William Pohlad, Larry McMurtry, Michael Costigan, Michael Hausman, Alberta Film Entertainment
Director of photography: Rodrigo Prieto
Production designer: Judy Becker
Editors: Geraldine Peroni, Dylan Tichenor
Music: Gustavo Santaolalla

Cast:
Ennis Del Mar: Heath Ledger
Jack Twist: Jake Gyllenhaal
Joe Aguirre: Randy Quaid
Alma: Michelle Williams
Lureen Newsome: Anne Hathaway
Alma Jr., age 19: Kate Mara
Alma Jr., age 13: Cheyenne Hill
Cassie: Linda Cardellini
Monroe: Scott Michael Campbell
Fayette Newsome: Mary Liboiron
L.B. Newsome: Graham Beckel
Randall Malone: David Harbour
Lashawn Malone: Anna Faris
Jack’s mother: Roberta Maxwell
John Twist: Peter McRobbie

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