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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Brokeback Mountain Broke My Heart

Yesterday afternoon I got to see a preview of Ang Lee's profoundly moving new film, Brokeback Mountain. It's an adaptation of E. Annie Proulx's short story and stars Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as Ennis and Jack, two cowboys who begin an intense sexual love affair whilst working on the eponymous mountain in 1960s Wyoming.

Living in the strictly oppressive, pre-Stonewall era, Ennis and Jack can't even consider living as a couple so they go their separate ways. Ennis marries Alma (Michelle Williams who gives a remarkably expressive performance) whilst Jack marries rodeo girl Lureen (Anne Hathaway). The years pass, the two men have children but sporadically meet up for "fishing trips" on Brokeback Mountain. The toll that their secret love takes on the two men and their families builds to a devastating final act, that stands out as possibly the most heart-breaking ending that I have ever seen (for those who have read the story, you will know that "the shirt" plays a pivotal role).

This is a beautifully written, directed and acted story. I cannot recommend it highly enough. There was a fear that the gay theme would alienate audiences but after a while, you get so wrapped up in the tale that you forget that it's two men whose relationship you are rooting for. It truly becomes universal: everyone will be able to relate to Ennis and Jack's pain and if you are not horrendously moved by the final scene, then I'm afraid that you might not be of the human race!

Ang Lee, who directed Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm (a movie that thematically prefigured the later American Beauty), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hulk (a disaster), once again expertly handles repressed emotions and the struggle between modernity and tradition. The loneliness of the two men is thrown into sharp contrast - and then strangely amplified - by the sweeping vistas that Lee offers the viewer. He has brought a sensitive eye to this tale and elicits magnificent work from all those under his auspices.

The two lead actors are extraordinary. It was a brave choice for a couple of young men just beginning their Hollywood careers and they certainly don't hold back. It's unfair to single one out for praise, but special mention must go to Heath Ledger, who has not had an opportunity to demonstrate his acting range before now. His Ennis is a hulking, inarticulate, confused, sad, lost soul who, for reasons he can barely express, slowly and painfully watches his one chance for true happiness fritter away. It's an astonishing performance that in its intense rendition of self-loathing and bewildering pain is reminiscent of De Niro in Raging Bull. Give this young man an Oscar right now.

Brokeback Mountain is without a doubt the best film released this year and is a nice bookend to the year's second best film which was released last January: Clint Eastwood's similarly heartbreaking Million Dollar Baby.


Seán Kenny said...

So it's better than 'The Producers' then?! (Sorry, couldn't resist).
Seriously, though, I haven't seen the film but, from what I've read about it, it would seem to represent a mature and thoughtful portrayal of gay men.
As opposed to the portrayal in the, ahem, film above.

Anonymous said...

Having just seen this film, I would have to agree with every single word. The film is breathtaking in every sense and leaves a lasting impression.I was just swept away by this incredibly powerful and moving story. "the shirt" is one of the most poignant symbols I have ever seen used in a film. Definitely one of the best films of this decade!

stevie m said...

I juat watched it and i cant stop crying. It really did break my heart. probably because i can relate to it. im a young gay boy whose madly in love with a rodeo boy whom i dont have much contact with. And the end just crushed my existence. :(