The most talked-about cowboys in tinseltown

Betsy Milarcik

A truly immense hype is only created when a low-key film takes audiences by surprise, wowing critics and noncritics alike. This is the case with “Brokeback Mountain,” a film whose popularity has been fueled completely by the buzz that it has created. “Brokeback Mountain” is the story of two ranch hands who meet when they spend a summer together herding sheep in the Wyoming wilderness. Their friendship quickly turns into something more; an aching love that haunts them both after the summer ends.

How did such a seemingly gentle story become the film that’s on everyone’s lips? The beginning of the movie grapevine can usually be traced back to the same source: critics. Awed by this film, the media planted the seeds of interest in the impressionable minds of moviegoers.

But even though people listen when the media speaks, good reviews don’t necessarily mean popularity. Other “A” films such as “Capote” didn’t create nearly as much hype as “Brokeback” did this season despite having the critics’ support.

“Brokeback Mountain” has an extra edge that these other small films lack, something that the more mainstream movies have in abundance: popular stars. Few give younger actors the credit they deserve for attracting audiences, but “Brokeback” stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger are far from unknown. Gyllenhaal has proven to be capable of movie greatness time and time again, tackling demanding films like “Jarhead” since his career began. Ledger’s films thus far haven’t had quite as much depth as those of his costar’s. Even though he has acted alongside such big names as Matt Damon and Kate Hudson, Ledger is best known for his light and shallow teen films, namely “A Knight’s Tale.” But this résumé did its part in attracting moviegoers as well. Older audience members may have been intrigued by the promise of a riveting performance by Gyllenhaal, but younger viewers (especially of the feminine persuasion) may have been encouraged by Ledger’s past theater exploits.

These triggers sent people to the movie theaters, but in order for a movie to become as popular as “Brokeback” has, there has to be an element in the film that viewers find especially attractive. Although on the surface, “Brokeback” is simply “the gay cowboy movie,” it contains one of those universal themes that, corny as it may seem, audiences cannot resist: love. “Brokeback” explores a love story of substance that follows the same path that classics like “Romeo and Juliet” have, struggling to keep forbidden emotions alive. Of course, even more than this, “Brokeback” has good essentials. The film is well-scripted, well-directed, well-acted (especially by Ledger) and beautifully shot. Reinforcement of superior film making can be seen from the more than 20 film associations that have either nominated or awarded “Brokeback” for a vast number of areas, ranging from best editing and score to best actor and film. Most notable is the movie’s recent success at the Golden Globes, where it won Best Film (Drama) among other awards.

Having read all of this, you may be asking yourself if you should go see this movie. Ignoring the fact that both critics and moviegoers seem to love this film, I now state that “Brokeback Mountain” isn’t for everyone.

The combination of forbidden love and the struggle against homosexuality makes for a very intense and extremely powerful film. Many view cinema as an art form; for those, “Brokeback Mountain” will be a fountain of fascination. But if you’re simply looking for a relaxing and entertaining film on a Saturday night, perhaps “Brokeback Mountain” isn’t the best choice. If unprepared, the film may simply leave you feeling drained rather than rejuvenated. “Brokeback Mountain” is very much a critic’s film: controversial, poignant and very heavy.