Film Reviews

Brokeback Mountain Ang Lee

Rating - 9/10

On and off screen, homosexuality and Hollywood have never been the most comfortable of bedfellows. The major studios' fear of casting an openly gay actor in a straight romantic lead has not only resulted in very few stars outing themselves to the public (Rupert Everett, Ian McKellen, er...), but the impact on the industry's readiness to tackle the subject in film is also there for all to see... or not as the case may be.

So for this year's current Best Picture front-runner to be one that openly subverts Hollywood's most alpha-male genre (the Western) with a gay relationship, Brokeback Mountain has to be something special. And it is.

We may have only just presented you with our pick of last year's best films, but the jostling for the top spot in 2006's poll starts here. Going art-house on Hulk (2003) may have damaged Ang Lee's box-office bankability, but Brokeback Mountain will have the director's peers green with envy.

Describing his film as an 'epic love story', Lee has fused the desolation of repressed homosexuality seen in My Own Private Idaho (whose director Gus van Sant also flirted with the project), with the Oscar-grabbing themes of love, loss and liberation.

Having arrived separately in Signal, Wyoming looking for work in the summer of 1963, Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) soon find themselves packed off to the top of the eponymous mountain to protect a herd of sheep from potential predators. Suffice to say that by the end of the summer, the two cowboys head back down the mountain talking and walking like John Wayne.

As Ennis and Jack struggle to assimilate themselves back into the Real World of wives, children and making a living, the film presents a shattering depiction of lies, unfulfilled dreams and forbidden desire.

Ledger (The Patriot, A Knight's Tale) is revelatory as the strong, silent Ennis and the impressive Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko) is as easy on the eyes as the stunning Wyoming vistas (Lee acknowledges as much by filling the frame with the actor's face at every opportunity).

Above all else, however, Ang Lee deserves credit for his handling of the subject. Empathising without ever patronising, the director has tackled the first 'gay western' in the finest way possible; with delicacy and true grit.