Well, this ever-so ‘umble critic is putting his reputation on the line – Brokeback Mountain (2005) really isn’t quite as good as everyone else seems to believe. There, I’ve said it. Accusations of hard-heartedness may follow, but that doesn’t change the fact that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) director Ang Lee‘s simplistic, overindulgent work is little more than a competently made ode to nature and male-bonding.
Clearly, though, it was a perfect opportunity for America to get back in touch with its feminine side while its troops were still busy ‘saving’ villages in foreign lands.
The year is 1963: cowboys Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (the late Heath Ledger) are hired and sent together to Brokeback Mountain to herd sheep for the summer. The work is arduous, the terrain and conditions unforgiving, but a friendship quickly grows between the two men, who are dependent on each other for survival in the wilderness.
Things go deeper, however, when Jack takes Ennis into his tent one cold night, and the companionship goes a step further. In the macho world they must inhabit, theirs is the love that dare not speak its name, so the men reluctantly go their separate ways once summer is over, finding wives (Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway, both excellent) and raising families. But they revisit their deep, complex love during the following 20 years, and it becomes clear that accepting their feelings might drive them apart forever.
Sounds moving, doesn’t it? In parts, it is; Ledger takes acting honours for his struggle, etched painfully on his features and his life, to suppress his emotions for Twist. Gyllenhaal, on the other hand, while seemingly more willing to make a life with his soul-mate, ultimately lacks the courage to do anything about it.
But the film disappoints – perhaps its Ang Lee’s obsession with breathtaking natural cinematography, or maybe there simply isn’t enough story to fill the running time, but boredom set in for this reviewer after the first 90 minutes.
Sure, you’d have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the men’s plight, but the agony is piled on to such an extent that the result is bludgeoning, not enlightening.