Reviews

Brokeback Mountain

4

So, cinema's latest favourite couple managed to lasso awards for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Score, but their mucky misadventures didn't succeed in rounding up the expected golden statuettes for acting, cinematography or, crucially, Best Picture. Another fine movie about hatred, prejudice and fear rode off with the big prize while Brokeback Mountain, much like its downtrodden heroes, hunched its weary shoulders and lived with it.

You can argue over whether Crash was the worthier film until the cowboys come home, but one fact remains: Brokeback Mountain is a beautiful movie. And we're not just talking visuals - although the wide-open spaces of Wyoming, with its jagged, snow-dipped peaks and too-puffy-to-be-true cloud formations, linger long after the credits have faded. There's also a fragile, internalised beauty: the kind that comes from somebody you love, somebody you can't live without, somebody you'd be willing to risk your entire existence for... If only they'd risk theirs in return. Which, as Jake Gyllenhaal's Jack Twist learns to his pain, is something his lover will never do.

While the agony builds behind Gyllenhaal's cloudy eyes, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger, who may never better this subtle, emotionally locked performance) simply bows his head, lowers his cowboy hat and stares at his shoes. When he does speak, he's so bound up in his own universe he can't escape. "What do you do, Ennis Del Mar?" asks Linda Cardellini's flirty waitress. Ennis shrugs. "Well, earlier today I was castrating calves," he mutters. And doesn't that just sum up his life: a load of bullocks.

Annie Proulx's dynamite short story nailed Ennis and Jack's connection as a powerful, physical force they couldn't control, reflecting the wild and elemental forces of the nature around them. Ang Lee has taken her words and woven a stormy, claustrophobic reality for them, bringing to life not only the majesty of Brokeback itself but also the grimy, confining nature of some marriages and the lies men tell to escape them. Still, as lost and alone as Ennis and Jack are, it's a hard heart that isn't equally moved by the plight of Alma (Michelle Williams), the sink-bound drudge of Ennis' outdoor life. The passion her husband feels for Jack is so strong that he vomits when they say goodbye. Hardly a Hallmark moment, but that's the power of love for you... Set in an era when being gay wasn't just taboo, it was downright dangerous, Brokeback Mountain's mission is to show us that love can't be denied.

Naturally, the epic looks of Brokeback have lost a little gloss on DVD, but that's counterbalanced by the way the clumsy ageing make-up - the story spans 20 years - doesn't look quite so jarring. (On the big screen, Gyllenhaal's sideburns took on a life of their own.) Shame about the not-so-special edition, though: only three paltry featurettes, with a criminal lack of Oscars hindsight and context. You might want to wait for that spangly, rhinestone-studded, triple-disc Ker-Ching Edition...

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