“Brokeback Mountain” is as well crafted as you’d expect from an Ang Lee picture and the performances mostly connect yet, for me at least, the love story never came alive. Lord knows I’m an easy mark when it comes to films that go for the heart, but I was curiously unmoved by this so-called gay Western.
Based on the short story by Annie Proulx, “Brokeback Mountain” follows the intertwined lives of two men over 20 years as they marry pretty girls, have children and, all along, secretly carry a passionate affair. When they meet, ranch-hand Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and rodeo cowboy Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) are both looking for work. They find it in Signal, Wyoming, where they’re hired to guard sheep up on Brokeback Mountain. They develop a friendship over that summer, even though Ennis doesn’t talk much and Jack tends to act like a goofy bastard, and one night as they share a smallish tent, that friendship turns into something much deeper.
It being the Midwest and the Sixties, they don’t believe that they can take their love back to town, or at least Ennis doesn’t. So they go about their separate lives, getting married, raising kids and the such, and once in a while, they go fishing at Brokeback – not that they get any fishing done up there. It’s clear to both of them that they’re only truly happy when they’re together, so it hurts that they are almost always apart, but what can they do? In the words of Ennis, “if you can’t fix it, you gotta stand it”.
It’s a sad story, especially when it comes to Ledger’s character, who bottles up his emotions so much that he eventually draws everyone away from him. Gyllenhaal is good too, but the big 1970s mustache he grows late in the film is a bit distracting, as is the Farrah Fawcett hairdo they put on his wife, played by Anne Hathaway (Michelle Williams plays Ledger’s wife).
Alright, I’ve pushed this back enough, let’s get into what I see as the film’s real flaw. How can I put this delicately? I know it’s politically incorrect to say that what’s depicted here didn’t feel particularly romantic to me, but I have to touch upon that as this is the main reason the film left me cold. Again, this has nothing to do with how it’s two men who engage in it – what’s frustrating to me is that the bond between the two characters seems mostly sexual. To put this into perspective, I was also bored by the relationship in “Last Tango in Paris”, which was heterosexual but similarly unromantic in my opinion. We’re told over and over that Jack and Ennis desperately love each other, but almost all we see them do together is get drunk and have rough sex. Fun for them, no doubt, but as a movie romance, it’s a little thin.