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Film Review

Brokeback Mountain

(December 20, 2005) Hi, By now, everyone knows about Ang Lee's new film, adapted from a short story by Annie Proulx: Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger play two young cowboys, Jack and Ennis, each ostensibly straight, who fall in love during the summer of 1963, while herding sheep in Wyoming. The winter storms come early, their job ends, and they go their separate ways. The film follows them as they each marry, have families, try to make a life in their respective communities, and settle into caring but loveless marriages. Years later, Jack contacts Ennis, visits, and their passion is re-ignited. And consummated in what become yearly fishing trips to the site of their original sheepherding job on Brokeback Mountain. Both wives, played by Anne Hathaway and Michelle Williams, try to deal with what has become apparent, each in their own way. The film is epic, spanning at least 20 years, as we see their pain, loneliness, and struggles. There is so much more to this story that I would like to discuss, but do not want to reveal important elements. Every minute of this film was gripping, often moving, yet always done with great restraint.

Much of the story is set in the mountains of Wyoming, actually filmed in Alberta. Breathtaking beautiful, and beautifully filmed. The small towns, with their worn buildings and characters, are beautifully rendered. The scenes with the huge flocks of sheep were wonderful, particularly the details of the sheep dog driving the sheep. The cinematography is absolutely outstanding, and nearly every scene could be a handsome still. Some of the town shots look like Hopper paintings. So many of the images lingered in my mind days after. If ever any film needed to be seen on the big screen, this is it.

Much has been said about the acting: brilliant and moving. The actors lose themselves in their roles. Ledger probably doesn't have more than 5 minutes of dialog in the entire film, much of it mumbled, but his face and body perfectly express the internal conflict that is destroying him. And his wife, played by Michelle Williams, also with little dialog, but extraordinarily expressive. There are simply no weak performances here from anyone.

There have been some wonderful films this year, but I think this is my favorite, and will definitely see it again. It is powerful and memorable. Ang Lee shows us a great love, and its tragic consequences. At the same time he captures so much of the essence of America, the good and the ugly together. How is it possible for a Taiwanese born and raised film maker to make films that so brilliantly (and sometimes painfully) show us America? Not just this one, but Ice Storm. To say nothing of his other great films: Wedding Banquet, Sense and Sensibility, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. His powers of observation and story telling are truly remarkable.

A final thought is that this film would not have been possible 20 years ago. I often think that our country is becoming more intolerant, rather than less, especially after my experience of working in the Kerry campaign in Ohio last year. But Brokeback Mtn seems to be crossing over to mainstream audiences, and if so, shows that we have become much more tolerant and accepting than Republican politics would have us believe. I hope so.

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