Feb. 8, 2006 -"That Brokeback got to us good, didn't it?" Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) says ruefully to Ennis DelMar (Heath Ledger) in the much-acclaimed movie "Brokeback Mountain."
"It'll get to you, too," promises Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, Atlanta Journal-Constitution critic. Based on a short story by Annie Proulx, "Brokeback Mountain" is the story of two men who fall in love and spend the next several decades trying to be together, "as much as possible, that is, in a culture where a gay man and a tire iron were considered a natural match," says Gillespie.
"The movie is a love story, but that's not all it is," says Gillespie, continuing, "In some ways, the movie is as much about the way we were as the way they are. Jack and Ennis live in fear of discovery in a Reagan World that considers them in the same league as pedophiles. Surrounded by hatred, contempt and bigotry, they're condemned to lead inauthentic lives, full of curdled yearning and clamped-down emotions."
She continues, "Flawed though it is, 'Brokeback Mountain' is a pure original. No one has ever attempted to tell this story on a big screen within this time frame – when tolerance and civil rights were being grudgingly granted by Middle America to everyone except gays and lesbians.
Writing in The New Yorker, where the story first appeared, Anthony Lane says, "The new Ang Lee film, 'Brokeback Mountain', is a love story that starts in 1963 and never ends.
"The first scene is a master class in the dusty and the taciturn, with gusts of wind doing all the talking," Lane says. "A cowboy stands against a wall in Signal, Wyo., his hat tipped down as if he were falling asleep. Another fellow, barely more than a kid, turns up in a coughing old truck and joins the waiting game; both are in search of a job.
"There is something wired and wary in their silence," Lane says, "and the entire passage can be read not only as an echo of 'Once Upon a Time in the West,' whose opening hummed with a similar suspense, but also as an unimaginable change of tune. Sergio Leone's men were waiting for a train; these boys are falling in love.
The movie is being highly touted for Oscar honors, which it probably deserves. But, that's not the real reason to go rushing to the box office, says Ty Burr in The Boston Globe.
"The reason to see Ang Lee's 'Brokeback Mountain', and see it you should," says Burr, "isn't its hot-button topicality or its cultural cachet but simply that it's a very good movie, with a staggeringly fine performance by Heath Ledger.
"At the same time, the movie has already become the default 'best picture' in a weak year — the one film that critics' groups and awards organizations can come to consensus on — and that's overselling it a little."
After calling the movie "a significant film and one definitely worth your time," Gillespie voices an objection: she doesn't see "sparks." She says, "Though impeccably acted, under Lee's solid direction, 'Brokeback Mountain' is, nonetheless, overlong and, just as some hetero couples lack chemistry on screen, the same is true here. While they are believable as men in love, Ledger and Gyllenhaal just don't strike sparks off each other."
Where Gillespie sees none, others see "sparks" descending everywhere, in odd moments.
"It is Heath Ledger's picture," Lane says. "There is no mistaking Jake Gyllenhaal's finesse (look for the wonderful scene in which he can't look – his jaw tightening as Ennis, still just a friend, strips to wash, just past the corner of his eye), but it is Ledger who bears the yoke of the movie's sadness. His voice is a mumble and a rumble, not because he is dumb but because he hopes that, by swallowing his words, he can swallow his feelings, too.
"Its beauty wells from its sorrow, because the love between Ennis and Jack is most credible not in the making but in the thwarting," Lane says. "Duty calls; they go their separate ways, get married – one in Texas, one in Wyoming – and raise children. Ennis weds Alma (Michelle Williams), while Jack's wife is a rodeo rider named Lureen (Anne Hathaway)."
''Brokeback may be too polished for some people," says Burr, "too elegantly dispassionate in its study of choked passion. Its final image insists rather bluntly on the closets we build for ourselves. The movie sticks with you, though, as does its belief that love is more important than gender or culture or anything — that it's important enough to be treasured in secret if necessary."
Proulx writes in plain and forceful language about complex and nuanced emotions and passions as perhaps no other leading novelist does. She won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for "The Shipping News."
Burr says, "Lee stays true to the cowboy stoicism of Proulx's final lines: 'Nothing could be done about it, and if you can't fix it, you've got to stand it.' That's the tragedy here, and the strength."
The movie also stars Randy Quaid as the Wyoming ranch manager that hires the star-crossed lovers.
The screenplay was written by Larry McMurtry in collaboration with Diana Ossana. The film runs two hours and 14 minutes, and is rated R for sexuality, nudity, language and some violence.
It starts Thursday at Market Square East.
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