Ledger, Gyllenhaal Unforgettable in Brokeback Mountain: Film Review

This revolutionary love story is destined to become a Hollywood classic.

Brokeback Mountain is Ang Lee’s heart-wrenching epic film about the 20-year love story of two young cowboys who meet one summer while herding sheep in the vast and beautiful wilderness of Wyoming’s high-back country.

Prisoners of their time and place, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twiss (Jake Gyllenhaal) struggle valiantly – but futilely – to fulfill society’s, and their own, expectations of heterosexual marriage, but ultimately find themselves irresistibly drawn back to one another, compelled by their burning passion and inexplicable desires.

The story begins in 1963 with the two young men joining forces outside a trailer waiting to hear from rancher Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid) about a job herding sheep on remote Brokeback Mountain. One evening, after rounds of drinks, the two fall asleep and huddle inside their tent for warmth. Soon after, their passions burst into a furious sexual encounter that will unite, bewilder, and torment them the rest of their lives: “I’m not queer,” Ennis claims. “Me neither,” says Jack.

The story follows their summer spent camping in the rough – riding, hunting, cooking, and sharing conversation about their lives. The turning point in the film occurs when, under the threat of an early blizzard, the two men are called back to town and separate apparently forever, with Ennis to marry a girl back home. As Jack drives away in his pickup, each grieves silently for the seemingly ended relationship. You can feel the audience cry out for Jack to turn back and seize the moment, but neither of them can imagine what would happen if they tried to forge a partnership.

Each man pursues marriage, children, and jobs, but inevitably they join again and again over the years, unable to control their haunting attraction and yearning for each other. Their much-anticipated reunions are complicated by the heavy obligations thrust upon them by their circumstances. But because they find each other so compellingly irresistible they are continually drawn to their meetings, strengthening their love with each encounter.

This melancholy story is enhanced by the magnificent and breathtaking visual images of Wyoming’s snowcapped mountains, bubbling streams, and majestic landscapes. Rodrigo Prieto’s spectacular cinematography successfully makes Wyoming itself an integral character in the movie (although much of the filming actually took place in Alberta). The awe-inspiring vistas and poignant vignettes are punctuated by simple music that perfectly compliments the film.

Ledger and Gyllenhaal give artful and persuasive performances assuring them Academy Award nominations. Their powerful and stunning portrayals justify the recent significant recognitions they have received from the Golden Globes and SAG. The Australian-born Ledger has undoubtedly earned the noteworthy accolades of dramatic achievement reserved most-exclusively for history’s great actors – no less than Brando, De Niro, or Olivier, to name a few. To be sure, Heath Ledger’s astonishing portrayal of Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain will be praised and celebrated as brilliant and memorable for generations to come.

Both Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway, as the wives, portray their characters in a way that makes each seem so real that you cannot help but feel the ripple effects of the horrendous internal struggle that Ennis and Jack suffer. Williams’ anguished Alma ably portrays the pathos of a young woman trapped in wretched poverty and an increasingly loveless marriage. Hathaway’s dutiful Laureen buries herself obediently in work to hide from her unhappiness and please her rigid father. Each provides an outstanding and convincing performance.

The film is based on E. Annie Proulx’s 1997 New Yorker short story. The screenplay is by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana. Director Lee’s films include “Hulk” (2003), “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000), and “Sense and Sensibility” (1995). Ang Lee has hit a bull’s eye with Brokeback Mountain, making it a landmark masterpiece that is destined to influence filmmaking for decades.

Brokeback Mountain is genius and triumphant in its heartbreaking portrayal of two young men tormented by a Tantalus-like love they feel for each other at a time when societal norms keep them from taking the risks necessary to couple.

Brokeback Mountain will be long-regarded as one of the greatest love stories in film history.

Cast and Credits

Heath Ledger (Ennis Del Mar)
Jake Gyllenhaal (Jack Twiss)
Michelle Williams (Alma)
Anne Hathaway (Lureen)
Randy Quaid (Joe Aguirre)
Director: Ang Lee
Cinematography: Rodrigo Prieto
Screenplay: Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana
Music: Gustavo Santaolalla and Marcelo Zarvos
Production Company: Focus Features