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FILM: 'Brokeback' smashes clichés

Photo courtesy of Focus Features
Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger star in director Ang Lee's new film, 'Brokeback Mountain.' Someone would have to be living under a rock (or in the Midwest) not to know what this movie is all about and already have a finely tuned impression of Jake Gyllenhaal announcing, 'I wish I knew how to quit you!'
By Nate Buchik
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 12, 2006
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When you've already heard the deafening Best Picture buzz from New York and Los Angeles, a film is markedly less powerful if you live in one of those middling middle states. But in a year that saw too few movies make much of an impact, let alone a lasting one, "Brokeback Mountain" should linger with you long after you've seen it.

Director Ang Lee quietly tells a love story with the characters secluded on a mountain and then trapped in a family life. Hardly just a "gay cowboy movie," the film is a love story for the ages, and while it may be secondary, hopefully it will open up some people's minds.

Not exactly set in the Old West, the film opens in '60s Wyoming, where Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) are applying for a job tending sheep for the summer up on Brokeback Mountain. The two are secluded on the mountain and become friends thanks to alcohol and boredom. Ennis is quite repressed, but Jack is as open as you would expect a part-time rodeo rider to be. With the weather cold and hailing, the two share a sleeping bag one night, again with whiskey helping to lower their inhibitions. Jack is more experienced, while Ennis is reluctant, even after they have sex, letting his friend know that he isn't gay.

Later in the summer, neither of them are hiding anything as they fall in love on the picturesque mountain. They part ways after the summer because they feel they have to, but how much it pains them is apparent.

Jack and Ennis soon find women and start families and don't reunite for four years. They then begin to go on extended fishing trips together, escaping their lives of normalcy and giving in to their deep passions for each other.

Of course, as their marriages - Jack to Lureen (Anne Hathaway) and Ennis to Alma (Michelle Williams) - fall apart, it seems like there's a clear way for both to be happy, but Ennis won't take the risk.

The film works well because it seems to embody Ennis' reserved nature. Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto ("21 Grams") never makes the visuals overly romantic, and Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana's adaptation of the short story by Annie Proulx never gets too heavy-handed. While you expect a major Hollywood film like this to use long, obnoxious monologues revealing the character's innermost desires, the speeches never come. More is said with silence anyway.

The acting is top-notch. The film takes place over a couple of decades, making it quite the challenge for both the players and the makeup department, but the ensemble cast keeps it together.

Hathaway and Williams give their best performances, and Gyllenhaal perfectly embodies Jack's desperation. Ledger, however, is the star here. His soft-spoken, mumbled accent (like he's always got some Skoal in his mouth) gives Ennis frailty in what seems to be a powerful man on the surface. The way he deals with pain is truly haunting and is part of the reason the movie sticks with you so long after a viewing.

While this isn't my vote for Best Picture, perhaps it will be when March rolls around.

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