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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

I was talking to a classmate about "Brokeback Mountain" recently, and she said that she didn't like the film because she felt that "if the film had been about a heterosexual relationship, it would have just been boring." The truth is, if it had been about a heterosexual relationship, there would have been no conflict, and that is the point of the entire film. All great love stories need an element of danger that threatens the romance. Casablanca had the Nazis, and Brokeback Mountain has gay bashing.

The plot is easy to summarize: cowboys Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) meet during a seasonal job at Wyoming's Brokeback Mountain in 1963. They work long days and nights together, they become friends, and, eventually, they fall in love and their relationship becomes sexual. Their bond is sufficient to keep them in contact for the next 20 years. Both men start families, and both "go on fishing trips," with each other once in a while, leaving their wives confused and desperate. Lee shows us an incredibly sad scene in which Ennis makes love to his wife Alma (Michelle Williams) by turning her over and taking her from behind. From the look on her face, we know that this happens every time. Jack's marriage to his wife (played by Anne Hathaway, who has come a long way since The Princess Diaries) is similarly tense; both keep busy enough to ignore the fact that they never have sex. Both men's families are almost incidental, dwelling in the shadows of the all-powerful attraction they feel for each other. The mountain iteself represents the one place where their forbidden love is accepted.

There are parts of Brokeback Mountain that are painfully slow, and some moments of revelation that the audience sees coming a mile away. There were moments when I felt impatient, and I thought "My GOD how many more sheep do we need to see?" That is Ang Lee's style, however, and as nerve-wracking as it can be, it works with the material. The film has on oppressive, melancholy feel, just as the protagonists in the film lead oppressive, melancholy lives. Both Ledger and Gyllenhaal are spectacular, with Ledger giving a surprisingly good, understated performance. Ennis is a man horrified by his own sexuality. Jack is more accepting of himself, but naive about the attitudes of others. Jack doesn't know why they can't be together; Ennis knows all too well, and is too scared to take a chance. The film's screenplay, adapted from a short story by Diana Ossana and Lonesome Dove novelist Larry McMurtry is spare but effective. The script gets the job done and the actors make it work. Without the rich photography and outstanding acting, however, the story itself is pretty thin and soapy.

One last performance that I need to note is that of Anna Faris, a young woman who is quickly becoming one of my favorite comedic performers. In Brokeback Mountain she plays LaShawn Malone, the babbling Barbie Doll wife of one of Jack's friends. Hers is also a marriage based on lies, and it isn't clear whether her constant chatter is a sign of fear or just total obliviousness. Faris was great as the Cameron Diaz wannabe in Lost in Translation, and as Cindy in Scary Movie.

Bottom Line: Brokeback Mountain is a very good film and is definitely worth watching. I'm not sure that it should get Best Picture, but it certainly deserves its nominations.

New rating system: From now on, I am rating films based on how much money I would pay to see a movie (or, if it's really, really bad, how much money I would asked to be payed to watch it)

Money I would pay to see this movie: $8


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