BY KARYN KUBO LAMBORN
Examiner Film Editor
Director: Ang Lee
Cast: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway
Rated R, 134 min.strong>
Director Ang Lee has made the best love story of the year with “Brokeback Mountain.”
Based on the short story by Annie Proulx, “Brokeback Mountain” is set in Wyoming in 1963. Ranch hand Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) meets rodeo cowboy Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) when both are hired by a local rancher to guard sheep for the summer on Brokeback Mountain. Their isolation forges a friendship that eventually leads them into a life-long relationship.
One night, after drinking too much whiskey, Ennis stays at Jack’s campsite instead of heading back down to look over the flock. As temperatures dip, Jack invites Ennis inside his tent. The rough sexual encounter that takes place between them surprises them almost as much as it does the audience.
“This is a one-shot thing we got goin’ on here,” Ennis, a man of few words, tells Jack the next day. “It’s nobody’s business but ours,” Jack responds. They both assure each other that, despite what happened and keeps happening, it doesn’t mean they’re “queer.” In the cowboy culture in which they’ve been raised, loving another man is unthinkable; it’s simply not done.
They go their own separate ways after the summer. Ennis, as planned, marries his sweetheart Alma (Michelle Williams) and ekes out a living doing whatever jobs come his way to support her and their two daughters. Jack, meanwhile, comes back to Brokeback the following summer looking for work—and for Ennis. Not finding him, Jack wanders back to the rodeo circuit, where he meets and marries his future wife, Lurene (Anne Hathaway), has a son and gets drawn into his father-in-law’s business in Texas.
Four years later, the men reunite and find their feelings for each other still strong. They head off for a fishing trip, and those “fishing” trips turn into regular, semi-annual events. Though Jack dreams of them owning a ranch together, Ennis is circumspect. “I’m stuck with what I got here. Making a living is about all I got time for.” In the back of his mind is the indelible image from his childhood of a man beaten to death for living with another man.
In what is to be their last trip together, Ennis breaks the news that, because of work, he won’t be able to get away for their next planned meeting. Jack, who lives for the few stolen days each year they can be together, confesses, “I wish I knew how to quit you.” Ennis, whose “career” is just a series of low-paying jobs he can leave at a moment’s notice in order to spend time with Jack, responds, with voice breaking, “It’s because of you I’m like this. I’m nothing, I’m nowhere.”
Jake Gyllenhaal gives a first-rate performance as the boyish, somewhat naïve Jack Twist, but Heath Ledger is a revelation as the taciturn Ennis Del Mar. Ledger conveys with little dialogue — as befits his character — Ennis’s struggle to balance the life he’s been given with the one he wants and can’t have. Ledger’s portrayal is all the more heartbreaking because of its restraint.
Ang Lee’s masterful direction of “Brokeback Mountain,” (and the fine script by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana), allows its story to play out slowly, drawing the audience in to its characters, their conflicts and feelings; one that will resonate with anyone who has loved — and lost — another, regardless of sexual orientation.
“Brokeback Mountain” is showing at the Egyptian and Harvard Exit theatres.