BY Alonso Duralde
November 21 2005 1:00 AM ET
Breathe a sigh of relief that this exquisite gay love story has finally made it to the big screen—and it’s actually good. Exceptional, even. The legendary Larry McMurtry and his writing partner Diana Ossana , working from Annie Proulx’s story, have crafted a haunting and practically perfect romance, and director Ang Lee deftly captures both the bitter and the sweet.
In 1963, Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) and Jack Twist (Gyllenhaal) spend the summer together tending sheep on Wyoming’s Brokeback Mountain. And...things happen. (Lest you worry that the movie would wimp out on showing physical affection—it doesn’t.) But what happens on Brokeback Mountain stays on Brokeback Mountain. That’s the idea, anyway: Both men marry and have children. But they just can’t keep apart, spending a series of “fishing trips” together up in the mountains over the course of two decades, rekindling a passion they can neither express nor ignore. “If you can’t fix it, you’ve got to stand it,” Ennis tells Jack.
Ledger, adopting a soft-spoken twang reminiscent of Kris Kristofferson, is nothing short of revelatory, considering how ill-used he’s been in so many other films. Gyllenhaal gets to play a lot of different notes, from triumphant to swaggering to downcast, and he hits them all perfectly. As the wives, Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway also nail their characters. Hathaway’s portrayal of a 1970s Texan with money made me howl with recognition.
Brokeback isn’t just one of 2005’s best films—it represents a new high-water mark for Hollywood’s handling of gay stories. Whether or not multiplex audiences can handle Ledger and Gyllenhaal kissing, cinematic history is nonetheless unfolding before us.