Friday, February 03, 2006

Movie Review: Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Mountain is an over-rated, over-long story of two gay cowboys who have to hide their relationship as they struggle to live "normal" lives. Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) are two cowboys living in the early 1960s who get a job looking after a herd of sheep on isolated Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming. They have to rough it, living in tents and on canned beans while one of them goes up to the top of the mountain each night to protect the sheep from coyotes while the other stays in base camp with the supplies. One night, the two "Marlboro Men" (just about every one of the early scenes evoked memories of these commercials) sit around the campfire drinking and talking and Ennis, who is supposed to go and mind the sheep, decides to have a sleep to let the alcohol wear off and set out early in the morning. The night is very cold and, during the night, Jack tells Ennis to come inside his tent to get out of the cold. As they lie next to each other, they are overtaken by sexual desire which takes them both by surprise and they engage in a loveless, violent consummation that leaves them emotionally reeling. They reassure each other, in the morning, that neither of them are "queer". But as they spend time with each other, their feelings for each other deepens. Ennis realises, however, that to make their relationship public would destroy them both in a world where to be gay was not to be a man. The only thing to do is to go back to civilisation and continue their previous lives where they get married and have children - Ennis to a lack-lustre wife (played superbly by Michelle Williams) and Jack to a rich Barbie-doll (Anne Hathaway). Four years later, Jack unexpectedly reestablishes the relationship and although, on the surface, they live "normal" heterosexual lives, albeit without passion, a couple of times a year, Ennis and Jack meet secretly on a series of "fishing trips" to continue their relationship - the best they can do in a world that would reject the type of relationship they are having. As the years go by, we observe the tension in their relationships with their wives and children and the pain they experience as they try to hide their feelings for each other. Ultimately, there lives both take tragic turns and those around them are deeply wounded by their unresolved relationship. Brokeback Mountain is based on a short story by E Annie Proulx but the film seems like a long story than a short one. The cinematography lingers on the magnificent landscape and the initial relationship of the two men is gently developed. The central sex scene is powerfully and aggressively portrayed and both Ledger and Gyllenhaal are convincing in their roles. Ledger, in particular, puts in a powerful performance as a withdrawn, emotionally damaged man who speaks little but, when he does, means every word. Gyllenhaal doesn't quite match Ledger's performance but doesn't do too bad a job. But Brokeback Mountain never seems to hit its mark. The story is superficial and seems to skim over important issues as it jumps from one rendezvous to the next. Their relationship seems more about lust than love although that is undoubtedly unintended by the director. We get glimpses of the impact of their secret on their wives and families, but not enough time is spent exploring these relationships and these important characters are marginalised (ironically reflecting the exclusion of women that most westerns manage). There are a few deeply moving scenes, but they are not enough to make up for the thinness of the narrative that holds them together. Though the film moves slowly, great slabs of time are leaped over in a disjointed fashion as if the director can't wait to get to the next meeting of the two men. The central theme of the narrative is universal - people sometimes fall in love but can't do anything about it. And for Ennis and Jack, the impossibility of their situation is reinforced by their being gay. But, in a sense, Brokeback Mountain is too insipid, too gentle, too cautious, too languid. It is an important film culturally in the sense that it should open up conversation around a number of prejudices and issues that need urgent attention. But apart from that, there are many more engaging offerings at the cinema than this. My Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5) Content Warning Sexuality, nudity, language and some violence Positive Review 'Brokeback Mountain is that rare thing, a big Hollywood weeper with a beautiful ache at its center. It's a modern-age Western that turns into a quietly revolutionary love story.' - Owen Gleiberman/Entertainment Weekly Negative Review 'This much-ballyhooed gay cowboy melodrama is an inert disappointment.' - Phil Hall/Film Threat

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