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This is your typical love story: boy meets boy, boy loses boy, boy meets girl, boy gets boy back, boy loses girl, boy loses boy. Brokeback Mountain is a love story, and what makes it a strange and rare for an American film is not that it is a love story about two men. It is strange and rare because there are gay characters who are not in the film purely for comic relief. It was mostly shot in Alberta, Canada, the director, Ang Lee is Chinese and Heath Ledger is Australian, but Brokeback Mountain is what passes for an American film these days. It tells the story of two cowboys, well they aren't really cowboys, they are shepherds, but they look like cowboys. Anyway, the two cowboys, Ennis and Jack (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal), are hired by a rancher (Randy Quaid) to watch his herd of sheep for the summer of 1963 in Wyoming. It's lonely up there with the sheep and the tent is a bit small, so one thing leads to another and it becomes a very hot summer for the boys. The next year, Quaid won't hire them because he suspects that Ennis and Jack are more than just friends. The cowboys then try to lead normal lives, Ennis in Wyoming and Jack in Texas. They both find wives (Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway) and have kids. But they stay in touch and start meeting every few months to go "fishing." Ennis and Jack are able to live like this for a few years but eventually Ennis' wife finds out and leaves him, and Jack begins a death spiral. It is just not possible for these two men to be openly gay in the American west in the 60's and 70's (or today) and so they are stuck half in one world and half in another.
Brokeback Mountain is a beautiful, heartbreaking film. Ang Lee, of course, is the director of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, another beautiful film. The script is taken from a short story by Annie Proulx and expanded by Larry McMurtry. This is some nice writing talent. Proulx wrote The Shipping News, and McMurtry wrote Lonesome Dove. Ennis and Jack may be gay cowboys but they still talk like cowboys so there isn't that much dialog. But what there is of it is good. Brokeback Mountain is Heath Ledger's film. The whole cast is great but Ledger really stands out, and maybe shows once and for all that he deserves A-list status. Gyllenhaal has already shown that he is A-list. The two actors, Ledger and Gyllenhaal, have a nice chemistry together. Remember that they are just acting! I think Ledger felt he had something to prove. He and Michelle Williams are together in real life as well as in the movie and they just had a baby in October. Williams is very good as Ennis' wife, and makes this movie into an interesting love triangle. Hathaway also does well as Jack's wife. This is the first adult role for Hathaway who starred in The Princess Diaries movies. Randy Quaid makes the most of his small part as the rancher who brings Ennis and Jack together.
Brokeback Mountain has a lot of Oscar buzz. It has appeared on many "Best of 2005" lists and received quite a few Golden Globe nominations. It will probably be on my Top Ten list too. And it's causing a bit of controversy among the cowboys out in Wyoming too. It was already the setting for The Laramie Project, another sad story. But, Wyoming and America still have to come to grips with gays and lesbians. Unfortunately, the people who should see Brokeback Mountain probably won't.