Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB.
USA/Canada, 2005. Focus Features, River Road Entertainment, Alberta Film Entertainment, Good Machine. Screenplay by Larry McMurtry, Diana Ossana, based on the short story by Annie Proulx. Cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto. Produced by Diana Ossana, James Schamus. Music by Gustavo Santaolalla. Production Design by Judy Becker. Costume Design by Marit Allen. Film Editing by Geraldine Peroni, Dylan Tichenor. Academy Awards 2005. American Film Institute 2005. Golden Globe Awards 2005. Independent Spirit Awards 2005. New York Film Critics Awards 2005. Toronto International Film Festival 2005.
It used to be that the films chock full of impressive special effects were the ones that made us ask ourselves, “How do they do that?” In this technologically savvy age of computer-graphic expertise, our wonder has been taken out of the realm of science-fiction glory and has gone into intellectual accomplishment: in a year full of second-rate, two-dimensional, action-packed and explosive epics, how did they manage to create something so perfectly deep, possessing such a rare quality of subtext and compelling sensuality as this film has? How did Ang Lee, no stranger to evergreen classics, manage to create a romance where the world inside the lovers’ secret feels so incredibly safe and the outside so incredibly hostile? Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal (who are both astounding) play cowboys who work a summer job herding sheep (doesn’t that make them sheepboys?) and develop a deep love affair while alone in the mountains. When their employment comes to an end they go their separate ways, both to marriage in different states, but after four years they are compelled back to each other again. They begin periodic getaways in the mountains where they go “fishing” and live their only moments of happiness together, meanwhile Gyllenhaal’s wife (Anne Hathaway, who does a miraculous job of spanning twenty years) hardens in the absence of her husband’s passion and Ledger’s wife (Michelle Williams) suffers in silence. Rodrigo Prieto’s delicate cinematography brings to life the gorgeous love affair we get to watch here, one that is full of ripe sensuality in more than just the love scenes; watch how Gyllenhaal purrs a “come here” after punching Ledger in the nose. These boys will probably get the same ignorant praise from the press for playing gay that Renee Zellweger got for gaining weight (i.e. doing things that North Americans are far too judgmental about in the first place), but what really makes their work remarkable is that they share their souls with the audience, and that makes this beautiful film the very best of its year and one of the very best of its kind (whether that kind be western, epic romance or movies about sexy gay boys).