Hailed as Hollywood's first gay Western, director Ang Lee's epic tale of forbidden love between two men, which adapted from Annie Proulx's 1997 acclaimed New Yorker short story, is no doubt the most emotionally-penetrating motion picture I've ever seen in a long, long while.
Set in the summer of 1963, we first see Ennie Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Swift (Jake Gyllenhaal) meet each other when they are paired together to herd hundreds of sheep across the Wyoming's Brokeback Mountain, both hired by the no-nonsense rancher Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid). Throughout these two's journey herding the sheeps across the mountain, they don't really talk much but since there are nothing to do in the wilderness, it's only a matter of time before they started to get to know each other where Ennis talks about how he's being raised by his brother and sister after their parents died in a car crash, and a woman named Alma (Michelle Williams) he plans to marry come this fall. Jack, on the other hand, begins to complain how sick he is each and everyday he have to eat baked beans all the time and desperate for something else. But at one bitterly cold night, where Jack invites Ennis to sleep inside his tent, they have unexpectedly share an awkward and physical sexual intercourse. "That was a one-shot deal", Ennis tells Jack the next day. "I ain't no queer", he also added and therefore rejects Jack's idealistic plan to get their own ranch together because Ennie just knows that kind of ranching could get a man killed. As day and day passed by and the threat of a coming snowstorm puts a sudden end to their summer idyll, Ennis and Jack bottled up their feelings with their gear and go their separate ways. Soon Ennis is married to Alma and struggling to raise two little girls since both of them have to work hard shifts in between time. In the meantime, Jack tried his shot to fame at rodeo but failed nonetheless. He meet Lureen (Anne Hathaway) at a rodeo show, the pampered daughter of a successful Texas farm-equipment dealer, L.B. Newsome (Graham Beckel). It doesn't take long before they fond each other, get married and have kids. Ennis and Jack are both having their own family life until four years later after Ennis received a postcard from Jack and they meet again. Within moments of their reunion, Jack and Ennis can't help themselves but embraced with a passionate kiss that has Alma has unexpectedly witnesses with a shocking expression. Despite that, she says nothing, not even when Ennis and Jack take off for the so-called fishing activity in the Wyoming mountains. Their old passion reignited further sparks than ever before, and each time they get together all alone, it's all the more memorable but it's a matter of time before their gay relationship will suffer consequences. Ennis begins to worry, that their partnership can only mean danger if others found out sooner or later that it's hard to tell how far and especially how long they can go on like this forever.
The film is leisurely paced, taking as long as twenty minutes to build up slowly between Ennis and Jack where we are treated of watching them doing their sheep-herding job. This move might be a turn-off for casual viewers who has little patience but those who is willing to invest their time will be rewarded to see the story is gradually revealed its layer upon layer. Once their first physical connection ignited, the story continues to grow more stronger and more intimate, luring us deeper to these two characters and their subsequent encounters to other acquaintances.
Kudos goes to screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana has masterfully expanded the short story into something genuinely authentic, heartfelt and embracing at the same time. Ang Lee's direction, in turn, is downright sensitive and remarkably honest the way how he treated this gay couples so much of a universal love as two normal lovers with such poignancy.
No doubt this film also marked plenty of career-defining performances from some of the recognizable faces you wouldn't come to expect. Heath Ledger is especially revealing as his layered role as Ennis gradually showing his brilliantly modulated symphony of speech, body language and the transparent emotions that he has successfully evokes both internally and externally. Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays Jack, is also penetrating as he slipped his gay role with such comfort and so much in touch with his inner feelings. Their chemistry is so heartfelt that their gay relationships made them all the more profound. The rest of the supporting cast are equally captivating, with Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway who both played Ennis's and Jack's respective wives are fleshed out with such intergrity it's hard to believe their two first-ever exposure of tackling dramatic performances are so much revealing.
Beautifully framed by Rodrigo Prieto, who brilliantly used the untouched wide open landscapes of Alberta, Canada as a perfect stand-in for Wyoming, the cinematography is not only beautiful and majestic but filled with so much of characters. Along with the beautifully melodic, string-laden guitar score by Gustavo Santaolalla, the film is no doubt moves you deeper and deeper.
As the film draws towards its bittersweet conclusion, the result is achingly poetic, yet unblinkingly honest you'll be left thinking long after the end credits roll.
Best film of the year.