Movie Review
Brokeback Mountain
Brokeback Mountain poster
By Lee Tistaert     Published December 10, 2005
US Release: December 9, 2005

Directed by: Ang Lee
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal , Heath Ledger , Michelle Williams , Anne Hathaway

Running Time: 130 minutes
Domestic Box Office: $83,025,853
4 of 143
It?s emotionally real and is expertly handled by Ang Lee.
I think what we have here is the frontrunner for Best Picture and Best Director ? Ang Lee. If anything could give Munich a run for the money, this would be it (I see it as a similar situation as when Million Dollar Baby faced off with The Aviator). Brokeback Mountain is a film that I had been skeptical about ever since I saw the trailer. I didn?t have much of a reaction to it, and it was the type of picture that was obviously going to get the buzz going. A film about two bisexual young men who experiment with their sexuality was bound to make the headlines, especially when those young men are played by Hollywood darlings Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal (that?s enough to get the political activists going Passion-style on CNN debates). But this is a film that fortunately isn?t just a ?buzz? film (the kind you see and find that it was over-hyped). Perhaps some people might have that response to Brokeback Mountain, but I sure didn?t. This film surprised me. This is one of the few times when I?d actually be happy with the Academy if they do award it with Best Picture and Director (then again, I haven?t seen Munich yet, which is supposed to be one of Spielberg?s best pictures). It?s not my favorite film of the year (that honor still belongs to Crash), but it?s second to it ? it?s emotionally real and is expertly handled by Ang Lee.

Set in the early 1960's, two young men (Ennis and Jack, played by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, respectively) are looking for jobs in a small town in Wyoming and land one that involves herding sheep up Brokeback Mountain. Initially a professional and straightforward task, their isolation and sexual curiosity leads them to having a love affair that contends with Ennis? relationship with his girlfriend back home (whom he marries when they get back from their herding). The film is about that time of your life when you have a sexual and emotional awakening, and what happens if what you discover could have dire consequences on the rest of your life. These are two guys who like women just as much as men (or so it seems), and if they decide to follow through on an exclusively gay lifestyle, their lives will forever change (and they could potentially face a burdened life considering society?s slanted view of homosexuals). And if they decide to stick with the relationship with their current loves, they will always wonder about that other road they didn't take.

I knew I was in good hands just in the first few minutes of the film?s running time. With a quiet and delicate tone, Ang Lee sets up the mood perfectly (it?s the classic western opening). I was first reminded of The Station Agent (B) in how quickly it got to the point (and how ideally simple and adequate it was presented), and both films revolve around remote, minimalist locations and only focus on a few characters. There?s a touch of Unforgiven to its introduction (another Best Picture/Best Director winner), and the subtle music selection reminds of Clint Eastwood?s score from Million Dollar Baby (B+). The film moves along quietly at first so we gradually get a sense of who these guys are. Ennis is reserved and doesn?t talk much, while Jack is the opposite ? he?s outgoing and isn?t afraid to open up. We know where this material is going, but the joy comes from watching how these two characters interact with each other as complete opposites (and especially watching Heath Ledger take on this difficult role and pull it off with such attention to subtle detail). Watching Ennis, you know he has a lot on his mind that he isn?t sharing, which makes him quite the fascinating guy to follow, and creates suspense for the scenes to come.

The cinematography in the film is a performance of its own. Every shot of the characters? environment is captured beautifully and with a sense of elegance rarely caught on film; this might just be the film that Ang Lee will be remembered for at the end of his career. His direction more than makes up for the fall he made two years ago with the big-budget mess that was The Hulk (C). Lee has taken a bold and risky, intimate story and executed it with grace, as this is the type of story that could?ve been nothing with a different, less-compatible director. The dialogue is simple, which allows the actors to get behind the words and take them somewhere ? beyond just saying them; the details in their expressions and their timing is what makes the story believable.

Many people have a certain view of this film as a result of its focus on two possibly gay men and their sexual conduct. And many people are wondering what in fact the film shows in that regard. And I will say that the film doesn?t show that much. Whereas Bad Education (C+) made me a little uncomfortable at times as a result of its intimate homosexual content (that wasn?t the reason I didn?t like it, though), I wasn?t phased at all with anything in Brokeback Mountain. Most of what is revealed is just kissing and bare chests (and implied action), and the scenes do not last long.

The film is about their interaction rather than just the lovemaking between two guys. It?s about the possible consequences of experimentation and casual curiosity ? and whether you?re straight or gay, the film can make you think about your own life or what many other people are having to confront; it?s definitely a conversation piece. The film had me emotionally attached the whole way through, but there are certain elements in the third act that I?ve seen before in other films, which took away a little bit from a potentially stronger impact it could?ve made on me. In the end, I liked the direction of the story and think the ending?s appropriate for what we?re dealing with today.

This is one of those films you can receive criticism from certain people for liking because of what the film stands for, as they might think you lean towards the characters? sexual stance if you connect to it (which can be seen as unacceptable). And yeah, there are have been jokes going around about this film, and I?d be lying if I said that I didn?t make a crack about it in the last few months. But my joking around has come to an end: Brokeback Mountain is quite a good film, and obviously gays are probably going to have a stronger reaction to it than straight people are. I?m straight, and I have no problem admitting that this is the second best film I?ve seen this year.
Lee's Grade: B
Ranked #4 of 143 between Munich (#3) and Match Point (#5) for 2005 movies.
Lee's Overall Grading: 3025 graded movies
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'Brokeback Mountain' Articles
  • 78th Academy Award Nominations
    January 31, 2006    Brokeback leads with 8 nominations -- Staff of LMI
  • HSX's Oscar Nomination Predictions
    January 31, 2006    HSX Predictions near perfect; Munich and Frances McDormand two relative surprises -- Staff of LMI
  • Greg's review A
    December 26, 2005    It is one of those films that can change minds and feelings. It is a film that sticks with you after you have left the theater. It is a truly unforgettable moviegoing experience that everyone should have. -- Greg Ward