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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 6, 2006

'Brokeback Mountain' has broad appeal

 •  Gyllenhaal contemplates 'big stuff'

By Jack Garner
Gannett News Service

Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, right, find themselves swept up in each other.

Focus Features

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4 stars

R, for sexuality, nudity, language and violence

134 minutes

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From the sparse, harsh reality of Wyoming cowboy Ennis Del Mar comes a universal truth. As he says, "If you can't fix it, you gotta stand it."

The "it" in this case is a shocking, totally unexpected, totally unacceptable passion for another man, a fellow cowboy named Jack Twist. It's that passion that fuels the potent drama of Ang Lee's "Brokeback Mountain," one of the most deeply affecting movies of its day.

Sure, many of us have heard the callous jokes and harsh judgments about "that gay cowboy movie," but for filmgoers open to the experience, "Brokeback Mountain" is a deeply heartfelt and marvelously acted love story, with a surprisingly broad appeal and a resonance that stays with filmgoers long after viewing.

Based on an acclaimed New Yorker short story by Annie Proulx, the film follows the lives of Del Mar (a remarkable Heath Ledger) and Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), two young but hardened men of the west. The drama begins when they take jobs together for a long, lonely season atop Brokeback Mountain in the early 1960s. While guarding a herd of sheep far away from the prying eyes of civilization, the two men stumble into physical intimacy that Ennis, at least, never sees coming.

And once it happens, Del Mar spends a long time trying to understand it. Coming down from the mountain, he marries his girlfriend and has two children. Twist also gets married and has kids. (Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway are excellent as the emotionally abandoned women.)

Ultimately, Ennis and Jack reunite for "fishing trips" two or three times a year, and their passion remains strong.

Twist dreams of making the relationship permanent, with the two men perhaps settling down together on a ranch. But Del Mar is more realistic about life in rural Wyoming, reinforced by a horrifying childhood memory. "Bottom line is, we're around each other and this thing, it grabs hold of us again, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and we're dead."

Thus, "Brokeback Mountain" is a story of a forbidden love, told in deeply humanist terms. Director Lee frames the story with big sky country so richly photographed, you can smell the pines and feel the grit. Few contemporary writers know the West as well as Larry McMurtry (of "Lonesome Dove" fame) who co-wrote the screenplay with his partner, Diana Ossana, and "Brokeback Mountain" is filled with superb details of horsemanship and camp life on the trail.

But the true landscape of "Brokeback Mountain" is in the heart, which may explain why no film from 2005 reverberates more powerfully than this.