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AndytheSaint - The Patron Saint of Bloggers
Movie Review: Brokeback Mountain (2005) 
25th-Jan-2006 10:46 pm
The finest gay cowboy movie since Young Guns II

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Starring: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Michelle Williams, Randy Quaid, Linda Cardellini, Anna Faris

Directed by: Ang Lee

I've been asked a few times lately by skeptical inquirers what I thought about this movie. Since I don't usually like to give too much of an opinion about a movie until I've put it down in writing, I usually reply "pretty good". Then, sensing their hesitance, I add "but I'm not a raging homophobe".

Yes, Brokeback Mountain is the gay cowboy movie, telling the story of two Wyoming men, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) who meet and fall in love while tending sheep on Brokeback Mountain in 1963. The movie follows the characters as this newfound and unexpected love meets obstacles placed on them by the society in which they live, and their own fears and doubts about what this means for them. But beyond the gay cowboy hook, Brokeback Mountain is a story about unfulfilled and unrequited love, replacing Capulets and Montagues with sheep and rodeos. But, instead of fearing banishment from fair Verona, its protagonists can not fully express their love for fear of being beaten to death with tire irons.

Filmed in and around my hometown of Calgary, Alberta, the photography in the film is absolutely gorgeous (with the added bonus for me in feeling familiar). Ang Lee has directed a phenomenally good looking movie, both with the sweeping shots of the majestic Rocky Mountains and the simpler shots of the poor, small-town lives of Del Mar and Twist. He also doesn't shy away at all from the homoerotic current in the film, shooting the characters at times in searing poses (Jack leaning up against his truck, Ennis with fists clenched offset by fireworks) that emphasise the characters masculinity and sensuality at the same time. In truth, these shots are probably no more homoerotic than those in your average mindless action blockbuster, only with less subtext, which gives the film a power those others can only wish to achieve.

The acting in the film is superb, with each performer reining themselves in to play the tightly wound characters of the story, while at the same time showing the seething passions bubbling underneath. Ledger shines as the repressed Del Mar, a man of very few words, resigned a long time ago to accept his lot in life. Gyllenhaal is his match as the feistier Twist, bringing a winking charisma to the screen that offsets the tight stoicism of Del Mar nicely. Michelle Williams proves she's progressed nicely from her Dawson's Creek days as the long-suffering wife of Ennis, suffering silently until she can suffer no more (paralleling Ennis' struggle, only with a more viable out to her situation). Perhaps the biggest revelation of the movie is Anne Hathaway, whose character Lureen Newsome begins the film as a spitfire, then slowly sees her spark extinguished as the movie progresses. Like those of the other characters, Lureen's progression is subtle, requiring a deft touch one wouldn't expect from a veteran of The Princess Diaries and Ella Enchanted.

Beyond the gorgeous scenery and fantastic acting, what is truly great about this movie is the writing. Screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana have adapted Annie Proulx's short story into an amazing character study, crafting the best love story of the year. All of the principle characters in the story feel fully dimensional, earning the audience's sympathy and drawing us in to their plight. That they did this with characters of limited vocabularies and in some cases, an unwillingness to share their limited vocabularies, makes the writing all the more impressive. They don't cheat by giving their taciturn characters showy monologues or unnatural expository dialogue. Instead, the few words spoken by Ennis speak volumes, right down to the very last scene in the movie, where Ennis attempts to come to terms with his life and sums all the passion, anger, and sadness in his heart... with three words.

It truly is a beautiful film, one worthy of all the best picture consideration it has been getting. However, I do feel it may be getting a tad too much praise due to its risk-taking subject matter. On the one hand, that's a positive, because risk-taking should be praised. It could lead to more risk-taking in the future (more likely, however, it'll just lead to more gay cowboy movies). However, beneath the original motif of homosexual cowboys, Brokeback Mountain is merely a love story, one that is a little short in the "story" side of things. It is a phenomenal character study, but not a whole hell of a lot actually happens. Of course, inaction is a central theme of the film, which is fine, but at the same time, when it was over, I couldn't help but think that the storytelling side of the film was a little shallow. When I saw that it was based on a short story, I thought "well, that fits".

The shallowness of the story hurts the film a bit in my eyes. Also, while I did think it was excellent, in the end, it's not really my kind of film. That is, I'm not really into epic love stories, or westerns for that matter. Regardless, it is one of the best films of the year, and is well worth your time. I highly recommend it, you know, if you're not a raging homophobe.


Related (other Oscar-baiting films from 2005):
Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)
Syriana (2005)
Walk the Line (2005)
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