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Brokeback Mountain review

Brokeback Mountain
15certificate 15
Running time: 134 minutes
Starring: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, Randy Quaid
Rating 8 out of 10
In the tradition of Romeo And Juliet, Brokeback Mountain is a romantic tragedy. It centers on two people whose circumstances prevent them being together. That the two people involved are rodeo riding, gritty, mid-western cowboys is what makes an ordinary situation extraordinary. Based on E. Anne Proulx's heart wrenching short story, Brokeback Mountain has been sensitively adapted by Pullitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurty and directed by Ang Lee, who has again shown his ability to delve convincingly into a different world. Brokeback is a million miles from the mannered repression of Sense And Sensibility and the fantastical splendour of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but it's clear that Lee understands this territory equally well.

Anchored by forceful performances from Heath Ledger as the brooding, taciturn Ennis Del Mar and Jake Gyllenhaal as the more sensitive, romantic Jack Twist, Brokeback is a character study of two men battling their true feelings and the moral constraints of the time and environment in which they live. Sparingly yet eloquently expressed, Brokeback conveys the heartfelt tenderness the two men have for each other and the unbearable pain they suffer at not being able to be together.

Beginning in 1963 in the rustic splendour of Wyoming, Ennis and Jack meet when assigned to tend a vast herd of sheep grazing on the remote Brokeback Mountain. Their isolation nurtures a bond, one that is confirmed in glances and manner rather than words, something Ennis uses only reluctantly. When their passions finally get the better of them, Ennis' post coital reaction is a blend of denial and shame. "It's a one shot thing we got going here," he spurts. Jack's response is more accepting, "It's nobody's business but our own," before Ennis stresses, "I'm not queer."

Both men are products of loveless upbringings with the result that neither are ably equipped to deal with or show their feelings which come out in a conflicted blend of rough housing and tenderness. When their assignment finishes, Ennis and Jack part ways and begin living charades of domestic normality with wives and kids, but all the while the intensity of their time on Brokeback Mountain gnaws away at them. Finally Jack contacts Ennis and the two rekindle their passionate affair. Over the course of the next twenty years the two spend stolen weeks together under the guise of fishing expeditions. Yet that's not enough for the more ardent Jack who initially wants the pair to set up ranch together but, for the cripplingly inhibited Ennis, the notion is unthinkable. "Two guys living together, no way."

Set against the painterly backdrop of the American mid west, Brokeback Mountain offers concessions to the passing years while all the while exuding a resonant timelessness. Spinning a short story into more than two hours allows for plenty of space and reflective moments, ones which Lee uses masterfully to underline the film's essence. Few characters in film have conveyed more and said less than Ennis Del Mar and rarely has the agony of forbidden love been so beautifully illustrated.

Kevin Murphy

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