Film review: Brokeback Mountain


Brokeback Mountain

Despite some flaws, I found myself unable to stop thinking about this slow, sad and beautiful film long into the evening after emerging from the cinema. Ang Lee, back in Ice Storm form after the confused Hulk, has crafted a deeply affecting tale out of a short story by E. Annie Proulx, and I’m sure she’s relieved to see one of her tales brought so sensitively to life after The Shipping News, which so effectively ignored the poetical prose of the novel.

The big surprise here is Heath Ledger, who is completely convincing as Ennis, the hunched, tight-lipped cowboy who spends the summer of 1963 tending sheep on Brokeback Mountain with Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) and thus begins a forbidden love affair that is to last 20 years. It’s the first half of the film that is the strongest; the harsh beauty of the Wyoming mountainside, dark clouds gathering on the green slopes, the slow burning bond that develops between the two men, utterly believable despite their very different personalities.

It’s after the two men get married—Ennis to the sweet Alma (Michelle Williams) and Jack to the rich girl Lureen (Anne Hathaway), then after a four year separation meet again to find their love as strong as ever and begin years of regular ‘fishing trips’ together, that the film loses a bit of the initial magic. We start a fast-forward through twenty years which is sometimes a little confusing as the characters don’t age very convincingly, and we leave behind the slow, luxuriant pace of the first half. It’s no coincidence that this is the area where the screenplay elaborated most on the Proulx short story, and it shows.

However, these minor points aside, the film is a long overdue and deeply sensitive exploration of a previously—if not forbidden, then rarely explored more then superficially—love. It’s a testiment to the director and the actors that you pretty much forget that this is a film about gay love—it’s a film about love, pure and simple, and a love that has to face more insurmountable challenges than most. It’s also nice, for a change, to see male love portrayed as something more than a lifestyle of drugs, raves and leather harnesses a la Queer as Folk. Actually, the leather harnesses are here—this is a film about cowboys after all.

Four electric carving knives out of five.

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Brad
    Jan 31, 2006 @ 09:35:24

    Note: Hollywood is all about making money. If they can do that by getting my money by providing me with entertainment, then it’s a win-win situation. If they try to confuse me with overdone hype on how it is such a significant film because of the “theme” then it becomes suspect and I will actually try to figure the money angle on how they advertise the film. Since the film’s initial preview didn’t entice me (a chick flick with guys) the following questions came to mind:
    Why does everyone insist on calling them cowboys? They are sheep herders. Is there something more romantic in being a cowboy than a sheep herder?
    And why do they set the movie in Wyoming instead of Canada, where it was filmed? Is there something more romantic about being American rather than Canadian?
    And is there something more romantic about cheating on the wives if they are gay?
    Perhaps the marketing department thought that a movie about gay, wife-cheating, Canadian sheep herders wouldn’t draw as much business?
    And once again, Hollywood has made me too cynical to go see a film.

  2. UniversalHead
    Jan 31, 2006 @ 10:08:04

    I can understand your frustration with the marketing, but – you haven’t seen the film. My suggestion would be to ignore the marketing department, which – let’s face it – has virtually nothing to do with the vision of the filmmaker and everything to do with selling as many tickets as possible whatever it takes, and instead listen to such erudite and intelligent reviewers such as myself 😉 when making a decision to see a film or not.
    You make a lot of bald statements, some admittedly true, about the film. I think the distinction between cowboys and sheep herders is a bit of a fine one, especially since the Ennis character does more than just herd sheep in his life. As for being filmed in Canada, well, it’s incredibly common for location filming to be done in different locations (studios, Prague, New Zealand) for all kinds of practical and budgetary reasons. And the cheating on their wives bit, well, the film doesn’t shy away from the consequences of that, and certainly doesn’t glorify it.
    If it’s not your cup of tea, that’s fine, but don’t take the word of bloody marketers or you’ll miss out on a lot of good films. Marketing people think it’s a good idea to make a film trailer that gives away the entire plot of the film (I hate that!) They wouldn’t know a good film, or know how to market a good film, if it came up and tweaked their nose. (Though that said, films have to make money because they’re damn expensive to make.)
    As I pointed out, in the film, the fact that they are gay, sheep-herders, cowboys, in Wyoming, whatever, is just stuff that gives the main theme context. What Ang Lee is exploring here is the effect of a deep, lifelong love between two people that takes over and dominates both of their lives, despite the endless obstacles, external and self-imposed, that prevent it from being truly fulfilled. These people are by no means presented as romantic role models or saints, American, cowboy or otherwise.
    On another point, I don’t know if my object when I see a film is always to just be ‘entertained’. Often I want to be confronted, stimulated, forced to think and question my assumptions – all those things that art makes you do.
    Anyway, the film affected me, your mileage may vary! Let me know your thoughts if you do end up seeing it.

  3. Brad
    Feb 01, 2006 @ 13:22:59

    I guess that depends on your definition of entertainment. I personally like to be challenged in most of the films that I watch, even though I still don’t understand “Eraserhead”. Although a good (non-Hulk type) action film is also entertaining, but with all of the competition for my finite allotment of time, I have to be choosy in how I budget it and the first impression is a big factor in how I make my decisions. Those decisions are not carved in stone, but are more like the graffitti painted on subway walls that take a lot of effort to remove.
    As far as this film being groundbreaking, confrontational or stimulating, it just sounds like the plot to “Same Time, Next Year” with a gay sheep-herder theme. That’s just not entertainment that is going to get my money especially considering I didn’t like the first film. Since I haven’t seen the movie I’m not being critical of the film, I’m just saying that Hollywood just hasn’t “sold” me.

  4. UniversalHead
    Feb 01, 2006 @ 13:56:07

    Since you’re not being critical of the film, let’s look at the impact of the marketing (which is unrelated to the quality or lack of quality of the film). By any standards of marketing, this ‘campaign’ has been a huge success. As manipulative or incorrect as you think the campaign has been, it has succeeded in getting a lot of people to talk about and see the film. The flipside problem is, some people – eg those who draw a definite distinction between cowboys and sheep-herders 😉 – will be discouraged from seeing a film they may have found really good.
    But I agree with you, marketing is crap. I mean, if you paid attention to marketing, you’d think that Van Helsing was a great movie, or Underworld: Evolution is really clever and original and not just an excuse to get Kate Beckinsale back into leather.
    Trust Headless Hollow reviews instead! 😉

  5. Brad
    Feb 01, 2006 @ 14:07:55

    People need an excuse to get Kate Beckinsale into leather?!

  6. UniversalHead
    Feb 01, 2006 @ 14:17:55

    Point taken.

  7. steelbuddha
    Feb 02, 2006 @ 09:39:38

    Trust Headless Hollow reviews instead!
    I know I do. I will be seeing this film actually entirely based on your review. I had been in a similar camp to Brad since this movie was released, waiting to hear a review that didn’t seem to be simple glad-handing. Now I have one.

  8. UniversalHead
    Feb 02, 2006 @ 10:09:56

    I feel a great weight of responsibility! Hope you enjoy it – either way let me know, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.