Friday, June 17, 2016

Short Take: Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain (2005), director Ang Lee's adaptation of Annie Proulx's celebrated 1997 short story, is so fully realized it almost overflows the movie's frames. The film begins in 1963, when two shiftless young men (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) are hired to herd sheep for the summer in Wyoming. The two, both avowedly heterosexual, become lovers as the weeks go by. They go their separate ways when the season ends, and both take wives and have children. But neither can put the other behind him, and they resume their affair during occasional fishing trips over the years. They love each other, but the anxieties and complications of their lives will forever stand in the way of a fulfilling relationship. The richness and precision of detail--in setting, dramatic nuance, and every incidental element--is comparable to that of David Lean's 1940s films, and as with that period of the English director's work, the detail provides a powerful stage for a tremendously affecting story. The cast, which also includes Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, and Randy Quaid, is uniformly excellent. The standout is Heath Ledger, who delivers one of the most indelible characterizations in contemporary film. His performance dramatizes the dark underside of the strong, silent masculine ideal; he suggests the character is so emotionally bottled up that it's painful to even talk, much less reach out to others. In the end his happiness is only with love's totems, rather than love itself. Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry are credited with the finely tuned screenplay. Rodrigo Prieto provided the beautiful cinematography. The visuals are most impressive in the outdoor scenes featuring the Rocky Mountain locations. They do justice to the awesome landscape while keeping the intimacy of the character drama center stage.

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