A romantic western with a twist, Brokeback Mountain is a haunting and well acted exploration of a forbidden and secretive love affair between two cowboys.
The film begins in Wyoming, 1963. Unemployed ranch hand Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and amateur rodeo bull rider Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) are hired by the hard-nosed Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid) to herd sheep across Brokeback Mountain. During their months of isolation together, both men form a strong bond which plays itself out in a drunken sexual encounter.
Assuring themselves that their time on Brokeback was a one off thing, they part ways and go on with their lives, marrying their sweethearts (played by Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway, respectively) and starting families.
Yet the two are not able to hide their true feelings for each other, and begin a secretive decade's long rendezvous at Brokeback Mountain, while struggling with the responsibilities of domestic life and the social barriers placed on them.
Ang Lee has bounced back quite considerably after 2003's Hulk mishap, crafting a wonderfully uplifting yet tragic love story that will stir the soul. Cinematographer Rodrigo Pietro takes advantage of the beautiful, tranquil scenery of the Canadian Mountains, and the music of Gustavo Santaolalla is uplifting.
Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal both put on extremely brave, career defining performances. Ledger seems to have come straight out of left field with this role as he finally taps into his vast talent giving a unique character study to the quiet, introverted ranch hand. Gyllenhaal is also spectacular as he continues to impress in various roles.
Both of their characters find peace together in the mountains and only chaos everywhere else. And both have very different opinions of where their relationship should go. Jack (who instigated the relationship) continuously wants to take there partnership to the next level only to be repeatedly shot down by Ennis, who knows the consequences -namely divorce and death- far outweigh the bliss of life together.
Jack seems to be more open with his sexuality taking on numerous lovers. Ennis however refuses to acknowledge his true feelings, holding them deep inside as he constantly assuring himself "I ain't queer". Yet even he can't hide his homosexual tendencies when he makes love to his wife Alma, played very well by former Dawson's Creek star Michelle Williams.
At its core Brokeback Mountain is a story about two men in love with each other and does not shy away from the physical side of their relationship. Oscar winner and screen legend Ernest Borgnine had stated upon the films release that if John Wayne were alive today he would be rolling in his grave, and this would be true: a person of strict conservative values would most probably hold a very negative view of this film.
But that is where the beauty lies. By having the two male lead characters in a western be apart of a bi-sexual relationship creates great tension not only between the characters, but also against the myths and legends of cowboy culture and the western genre, perhaps the most conservative of all film genres.