2005, US, directed by Ang Lee
Given the tremendous amount of noise that accompanied Brokeback Mountain's release, it requires an effort to examine the film as 'just' a film rather than a social cause célèbre. There's no mistaking the movie's Oscar credentials: serious subject matter; strong acting; and a stately (often excessively so) pace that cries out Academy Award. However, that's not to say that the film is without interest. For starters, Heath Ledger delivers a remarkable performance as Ennis Del Mar, one of two cowboys (the other played by Jake Gyllenhaal) who conduct an intermittent love affair over twenty years or more; Ledger's depiction of a man unable to convey his emotions is unflinching and often heartbreaking (it's a depiction of male emotional closure that's probably recognisable to most people). Michelle Williams, too, is excellent as Ennis's wife; only Williams's face, of the main actors, fully captures the kind of hard-scrabble existence that circumstances like this surely dictate.
On the down side, the line readings by Gyllenhaal and - especially - Ledger are sometimes so gruff that they border on the distractingly incomprehensible. In addition, for all the filmmakers' evident sincerity, and their respectful adaptation of E. Annie Proulx's source material, there's something very Jerry Maguire about lines like 'I wish I knew how to quit you'. That said, the film's sex scenes - particularly in the early going - have a saltiness that's rare in Hollywood films of any stripe, however tame they may seem in comparison to the work of more independently-minded filmmakers. And Ang Lee again displays a gift for re-creating a very specific American time and place in a manner reminiscent of probably his strongest film to date, The Ice Storm.