If you have the patience to sit through a slow-moving romance and you lack the vanity to be put off by explicit cowboy on cowboy relations, you'll greatly appreciate the light at the end of Brokeback Mountain, a work of art that's more than just a movie.
In 1963, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) show up penniless at a Wyoming ranch to look for work. The strangers are quickly assigned to herd sheep together on Brokeback Mountain. Be it the pristine setting in which they live, sleep and work together or the appearance that they're practically the last two people left on earth, something draws them together, and before long they share a tent and a raw liaison. In order to keep their jobs, they know they must keep this secret affair just that, and must decide on a larger scale whether or not to embrace their emerging love. Over the next 20 years, the two menalmost as if by familial rite of passagemarry and become fathers, but find themselves drawn back together. But can they ever find the happiness they shared together on Brokeback Mountain in the real world?
Be prepared for, at the very least, an Oscar nomination for Ledger, who painstakingly embodies the plights that his character would actually face. The plights for a gay cowboy stuck in the most unforgiving of cultural and societal climates are many, and, well, could there have been a tougher character to portray this year, save for Johnny Cash and Truman Capote? Which is certainly not to take anything away from Gyllenhaal's work here (or in Jarhead)Jack is more willing to submit to the love, reducing his character's complexity but not the actor's dramatic fireworks, which are nothing short of captivating. Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway co-star as the cowboys' wives, possibly deserving of Oscar nods of their own had their roles been bigger.
For director Ang Lee, Brokeback signals a dazzling return to his roots. Don't let Lee's Hulk aberration fool you, for this is a daring director who helmed The Ice Storm and Oscar-winner Sense and Sensibility. Brokeback finds Lee dissecting the humanity and the lack thereof in a relationship that goes beyond mere gender. But more importantly, he explores the threshold of the alpha male as an incorrigible creature. The film is also stunning, almost hypnotizing, visually with much of the story unfolding against the lush nature of Wyoming. And the score by Gustavo Santaolalla befits the ambiance perfectly without ever being intrusive. All in all, the film could've stood to trim a few minutes, but it just might be Lee's best to date. (Plus, expect a major boon for the fashion industry, as hipsters might again be sportin' skin-tight cowboy duds--and boots--in '06!)
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 1/2 stars.