DIRECTOR: Ang Lee
May Contain Spoilers!
This bitter romance garnered three Academy Awards back in 2006, and even though politics played a huge role, it would be unfair to right off the successes of this film. In the summer on 1963, two ranch hands are sent up the slopes of Brokeback Mountain to camp out and babysit a flock of sheep, the flock being a 1000 head of sheep in fact.
The pair grow closer and soon become lovers. Oh, they are both cowboys. But that shouldn’t really matter in this day and age, though of course it does. I have no time for the bigots who find the idea of two male or female lovers to be offensive, but like it or not, this subject is still a difficult one to broach in modern cinema, often reduced to sub-plots in mainstream films or A plots in more obscure indie’s, so it was refreshing to see it take centre stage here, and be taken seriously as a romance.
Ang Lee is a diverse director, having worked on films such as the underrated Hulk, Jane Austin’s Sense and Sensebility and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but at the heart of all these films is Lee’s eye for the heart of the story. One of the main criticisms of Hulk was that it was to melodramatic and art housey, oh and that the CGI was naff, which it wasn’t, well, that bad anyway.
Lee seems to have found the integrity to tell this story, doing so as you would do any other star-crossed romance, with two passionate performances from the leads, Jake Gyllenhaal and the late Heath Ledger. Both are sex symbols, I suppose, in their own rights and credit to them to take on such a subject and give it so much. You believe in these two, they are in love and lust after each other as any couple might, but there’s always the edge that this is wrong.
Or more to the point, that this is happening in the wrong decade, and their affair can never be anything more, as the chilling scene in which the young Ledger is shown the body of a gay man who was tortured and murdered for his “so-called” sins.
I also particularly liked the point that was being made here, with both Ledger and Gyllenhaal not being effeminate or camp, instead being portrayed as any other cowboy, very much men with masculine attitudes and pursuits, fighters. Another stereotype which needed to bite the dust, I think.
My problems with this film are to do with my feelings about the characters. I just didn’t like them very much, especially not Heath Ledger, who I have always felt, treats his family very badly, but that’s kind of the point. Even though I would have liked to have liked his character more, I do feel that he was a well conceived and fleshed out personality, and the film did at least have the courage to create it’s characters to be true rather than overly sympathetic.
The plot plays out well, with the expected tragedy occurring right on schedule but handled in a slightly surprising way. The cinematography was beautiful as was the opening thirty minutes as we take in the mountain. But there’s also a dour tone to everything, as it almost seems to be overcast all the time and the picture it paints of mid-western towns are pretty depressing, but seemingly authentic too.
Overall, a rare and fantastic mainstream portrayal of a homosexual relationship between two “men’s men”, as it were, but only a reasonable romance on the whole. With good but dislikable characterisations to contend with, it can be an up hill struggle as we are asked to take on the challenges of Brokeback Mountain.