The Good: Decent performances by the leads, Good cinematography
The Bad: Slow, Ponderous, Miserable, Message/Point
The Basics: In a disappointing movie that I'm shocked won writing awards, Brokeback Mountain is over two hours of drawn out misery for the characters and viewers.
I'm so glad I bet on Crash (reviewed here!) back in the day for Best Picture, especially now having seen Brokeback Mountain. Here's my thing (to channel Lara Means), anyone who reads a number of my reviews will easily determine I'm a liberal and quite openly supportive of gay and lesbian civil rights. Homosexuality is not some weird novelty to me. Therefore, I would just like (ONCE, at least!) to sit down to a movie involving gay characters who are actually . . . happy. Every major movie involving lgb characters at one point or another in the film comes up against homophobia, violence or self-hatred. In short, there are no real good lgb love stories that are on the order of stereotype-free, lighthearted romance that there are millions of for heterosexuals. Lesbianism is chic enough to come close and there are shows with openly lesbian characters and such, but gay men in movies only go that way - if Hollywood is any indication - because there are no other options and/or they are violent, self-hating men.
Man am I sick of that.
Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar are ranchers who are charged with guarding some grazing sheep on Brokeback Mountain for a summer. This work does not pay well and they sit around complaining and eating canned beans and being generally bored. However, as the summer goes on, they hook up with some violent sex, refuse to talk about it and when the summer ends, they go their separate ways. Ennis gets married and Jack has a failed rodeo career and hooks up with a rodeo woman and years pass before Jack and Ennis see one another again. What follows then are the years they spend lonely with women and families between seeing one another on occasion again and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
My review of Brokeback Mountain might seem especially harsh, but anytime I'm fully awake watching a movie (in the daytime!) and I fall asleep and have to rewatch half of it, it makes me think it can't be the greatest movie in the world. Ang Lee, who won Best Director for this film, is on my list now for this and Hulk. What happened to the man who made Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?!
The problematic aspect of Brokeback Mountain, outside being unbearably slow, is that the characters are miserable. This is not a movie about two men who love one another, this is a movie about two miserable people who hook up and spend twenty years bumping into one another to continue their misery. Their encounters are frequently laced with violence that suggests neither is very loving and again, we've seen it and it's simply tired.
What is far better than the characters is the acting. Brokeback Mountain features some pretty spectacular acting. The supporting performances, like Randy Quaid and Anne Hathaway, are decent, but the movie lives or dies on the performances of Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger. If the script had been better, it would have lived completely on the performances of those two men.
Gyllenhaal is able to go from being a smiling, generally cheerful persona to a moody and angry man in the blink of an eye and this ability is on full display in Brokeback Mountain. Gyllenhaal plays Jack with exceptional range and were it not for his moments of energy, the movie would be a complete failure.
It is Heath Ledger who rules the screen, though, as Ennis. Ledger plays Ennis with dark, brooding seriousness and suppressed violence in a way that never hints at any of the other characters he has portrayed. It is Ledger who creates much of the mood of the movie with his quiet desperation and mumbled drawl. It is Ledger whose performance makes Brokeback Mountain agonizing to watch for the sheer human misery of it.
So, damn you, Heath Ledger. In a movie otherwise bereft of enjoyment, Ledger's performance pulls the movie out of the depths of garbage and forces the viewer to acknowledge how impressive his work is.
Also impressive is the cinematography. From the beginning, Brokeback Mountain looks good. Of course, Ang Lee and company are filming unspoiled, wide open spaces in the mountains, so it's hard to go wrong. As the joke in Just Shoot Me once went, "You took one of the most gorgeous women on the planet and made her look beautiful; what did you use? Some kind of film?" It's hard to go wrong with sweeping nature shots.
Sadly, it's also not enough to save a movie; the best it can pull up is a Don Henley video. Brokeback Mountain, a movie I had been looking forward to, resonates with me as one of the biggest disappointments for a serious film I've experienced in a long time. The only movie that was more unredeemably depressing I can think of was the terrible House Of Sand And Fog. I think I need to go watch Magnolia (reviewed here!) again just to remember how good a depressing movie can be.
For other works featuring Jake Gyllenhaal, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Love And Other Drugs
Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time
For other movie reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!
© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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