Brokeback Mountain

Year: 2006
Director: Ang Lee
Cast: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, Anna Faris
As I write this review, Brokeback Mountain was knocked off the favourite spot by the surprise win of Paul Haggis' Crash at the 2006 Oscars. I still haven't seen Crash at this point, and even without having done so, I have the agree with the Academy.

Brokeback Mountain isn't a good movie just because it's brave, or has incendiary subject matter, a movie is good because it's well made and says what it has to say well, not simply a good idea.

It has something to say, but doesn't say it well. Here's the first flaw; Middle America, the moms, dads and kids who comprise the vast majority of ticket buyers for Hollywood, cannot be upset with anything too liberal, anything too 21st century or most of what the chattering classes in New York or Los Angeles would accept. Hollywood studios have traditionally learnt the hard way when they've forgotten that fact, and that's why you never see a film come out of the mainstream studio film machine that's truly before it's time.

And I don't believe most Americans would find it palatable for two rugged men to suddenly be attracted, want to have sex and fall in love, not the way a man and a woman do. Not the way two gay men do in real life. Jack (Gyllenhaal) and Ennis (Ledger) need an excuse before those conservative audiences will buy it. The excuse is that they'd been drinking, and it was cold. It subliminally excuses their relationship because it reminds viewers of every drunken groping or bad one night stand they've had, so the intimation remains that it's a 'bad' relationship.

Sure, it's easy to explain it away by saying the characters themselves didn't want to accept it until they couldn't resist - with the awareness of each others' body heat so close, etc - and that they resisted because of the setting of the story (the reason for most of the conflict, about a love that can never be in rural 1960's America). But I don't believe those Middle American audiences, unconsciously steering the creative direction in Hollywood as they do, could have stomached it any other way, it was just fortunate for Ang Lee the story was actually about that resistance.

And while I'm talking about the genre-hopping Taiwanese wunderkind, don't believe any of the crap you hear he's said about it being 'a love story, not a gay cowboy movie'. If it had been about a man and a woman it would hardly have reached the heights of a midday TV movie. It was yet another version of Romeo and Juliet (as Lee himself has claimed), but you can almost see the dollar signs in investors' eyes when they imagined the controversy and publicity that would arise from a gay cowboy movie.

Two young ranchers are thrown together working in the beautiful but unforgiving Wyoming mountains one year in the early sixties, and in a heartbeat everything they thought about themselves is swept aside when they end up kissing and bonking each other in their tent.

The rest of the movie – which traverses the better part of 20 years – deals with each man struggling with his desire and his true self, enjoying occasional respite from the longing and guilt in each others' arms on semi-regular 'fishing trip' away from their families.

It's a worthy and beautiful message and the cinematography and casting are spot on (except for Ledger, ironically, who I thought spent the whole movie doing a bad John Wayne impersonation but was up for best actor). However, the subplots of each man dealing with his family bloat the whole thing out to an arse-numbing (pardon the pun) two and a half hours, and if you hate sad endings, give it a wide berth.

Gyllenhaal's great, tween heroine Hathaway gets her teeth into a role worthy of her previously invisible talent with gusto, but the whole thing could have done with far more ruthless editing.

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