Friday, December 09, 2005

Brokeback Mountain - Movie Review (Homos on the Range!)

Brokeback Mountain 2005

Howdy Podnuhs! Few films in recent years have garnered the word of mouth praise that has greeted our latest flick to roll down The Bloody Red Carpet. It’s name is “Brokeback Mountain”, based on a short story by Annie Proulx which first appeared in The New Yorker way back in 1997. It was folded into her wonderful short story collection – “Close Range: Wyoming Stories” (Go ahead, pick up a copy, it’s a good read.) And by now, as all of you know, it concerns the tale of two cowpokes that enjoy poking each other on cold nights atop the mountain which has broken its back. And what’s wrong with that, we ask in this lonely, bleak world? Nothing. If you’re not a homophobe. Plenty, if you are.

The film has been adapted by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana - who bring to it a wealth of experience with the lonesome west, and have retained all the particulars of the slim and steamy original. It has been fleshed out a tad to examine the distaff side, but blissfully respects the source material. Perhaps more short stories should be adapted to the screen, then those nitpickers who are always starting their embarrassing critiques with: “Well, in the book there is this scene . . . “ would be forced to shut their ignorant yaps. Film is film. Literature is literature. Get over it.

And what a gem of a little film! Taiwanese auteur Ang Lee is at the helm, with two particularly fine pieces of ass as the central characters, our boyfriends Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger. Ang Lee is a master of depicting frosty relationships that are struggling to connect through the uptight rules of society. From his earlier work, “The Wedding Banquet” which concerned an arranged marriage between a gay Tawainese-American man and his greencard bride, thru the familial ups and downs and superb cuisine of “Eat Drink Man Woman” to his near perfect adaptation of Jane Austen’sSense & Sensibility”, Mr. Lee quickly became one of our favorites. And one of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, too. He earned two Best Foreign Language Film nominations for the first two flicks on our list, and “Sense & Sensibility” took home a nod for Best Picture. He would go on to dazzle us with his examination of 1970s suburbia, “The Ice Storm” and his first foray into the American West, “Ride With the Devil”, which despite garnering good reviews failed to ignite any interest at the box office. (It seems that year audiences were too busy rushing out to go see “Runaway Bride” and “Big Daddy”.) Our favorite little Asian would finally win an Oscar the following year with his masterful epic “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, which reaped in the praise, Oscar nominations and glory. It became the first Foreign Language film to break the $100 Million box office gold barrier, and set a new Oscar record for foreign flicks with 10 nominations! (It would be one of only a handful of flicks in Oscar history to earn both Best Foreign Language Film and Best Picture nominations. What are the others? Oh, go look it up. Fine, we’ll tell you. But only because you asked so nicely. “Z” in 1969,The Emigrants” in 1971/72, and “Life is Beautiful” in 1998.) Ang Lee has rightfully earned his reputation for being able to attack any subject and bring it home with an unerring sense of good taste, superb production values, visual sumptuousness, and brilliant performances. “Brokeback Mountain” is no exception.

The performances are uniformly wonderful in this examination of two cowboys who meet as teenagers one morning in 1963 as they sign on to herd sheep atop a lonely Wyoming landscape. Dreamy eyed Jake Gyllenhaal portrays the instigator of their lifelong love affair, and Heath Ledger walks away with the movie as the tightlipped rancher who succumbs to Jake’s charms and holds on to their doomed love despite the inevitable societal barriers. Barriers in the form of their future wives, portrayed by Anne Hathaway and Michelle Williams. Anne took us by surprise. We didn’t expect such charm and quiet grace from little Miss “Princess Diaries”. Although we enjoyed her turn in the underrated “Nicholas Nickleby”, she is becoming quite the endearing little actress. (And any actress that can overcome the seventies styled wigs she is forced to wear, should be applauded.)

Michelle Williams,
we always knew had it in her. From her “Dawson’s Crack” beginnings, to her bolder work in such fare as “If These Walls Could Talk 2”. We have kept a space in our hearts for her since her delightfully clever 70s era spoof, “Dick.” In “Brokeback Mountain” she is given the choicer female role as the supportive ranch wife who discovers her husband’s illicit and downright scandalous love affair with his fishing buddy, and quietly chooses to ignore the reality of the situation lest it destroy her life. You done good, Michelle, you done good. It was also nice to see two of our favorite scene stealers in bit parts, Linda Cardellini and Anna Faris are perfectly cast as alternately the flirtatious and good hearted waitress that follows Michelle as the woman in Heath’s life, and Anna gets to sink her noted comedic thespic skills into another delicious creation as a chatterbox Texan. But enough about the fish, where’s the beef?

Our love for Jake Gyllenhaal goes back years. (See our review of this year’s “Jarhead” or “Proof” for the particulars, please.) Jakey is having quite the year so far, and he tops it off with his contribution as the gayer of the sheep roping duo. Gayer in the sense, that from their first encounter, it is clear that Jake’s character Jack Twist is the initiator in this secret love affair. The object of his lust, as portrayed by Heath Ledger is a taciturn cowhand who is at first taken aback by the advances, but faster than you can say “Ride ‘em, cowboy!” . . . well, he pretty much does. So there. Jake is wonderful in the role of Jack Twist, alternating his longing glances with a quietly simmering intensity that bursts forth in the most inopportune moments. Heath Ledger, who has delighted us in the past with his youthful saunter and growly baritone in such fare as “A Knight’s Tale” and his brilliant but brief role as the doomed son in “Monster’s Ball” (The only good thing in that flick in our opinion.), has been rapidly garnering the majority of the praise for his role as Ennis Del Mar. He deserves it. This is a fully charged and complete performance that sneaks up on you and rips your heart out and stomps on it and kicks it into the corner and then kicks it again. Whew! We’re worn out just remembering some of his powerful scenes. All this pre-Oscar buzz for once seems worthy. And for the record, we turned the critical corner with Heath a few months back with his hilariously charismatic and perfectly timed comic bits amidst the otherwise cluttered “The Brothers Grimm.”

Now, believe it or not there was a time in recent history when a good ole fashioned slap and tickle between two rugged boys would be frowned upon by society. GASP!!!! We know! Who in their right minds would care if a cowboy chooses to cornhole his pal over a filly? We can’t imagine. But as the film starts out in the early 1960s, pre-Stonewall and all that, we have to forget our free thinking ways and accept the fact that maybe some people in the good state of Wyoming might simply not care for homosexuals. Too bad for them. And too bad for all those idiot rags, and gossipers and snot nosed amateur journalists that have insisted on making a scandal of the casting of two young Hollywood hunks in a gay themed love story. We say to them, stop spreading the hate! That role is for us to fill come Golden Globe night. We swear if Americans weren’t so damned uptight about the gays, they might actually pull their collective wits about themselves and accomplish world peace. Whatever. Jake and Heath are not risking their careers by playing gay cowboys. Neither were Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Ed Harris and Meryl Streep risking their careers when they were having a gay ole time in “The Hours.” Or Hilary Swank in “Boys Don’t Cry.” Or Ian McKellen in “Gods and Monsters.” Or Tom Hanks in “Philadelphia.” Or William Hurt in “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” Or Robert Preston in “Victor / Victoria.” Or Peter Finch in “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Or Mercedes McCambridge in “Giant.” Or George Sanders in “All About Eve.” Or Clifton Webb in “Laura.” NO! (They were too busy being nominated or winning the Oscars for their roles. Except strangely, Meryl who was nominated that year for her breeder turn in “Adaptation”, but we digress. Sue us.) So “SHUT IT, DONKEYS!”

We will admit that we had two disparate reactions to the love affair in this film. One, we just loved seeing the boys rustle up some cowbooty and swap spit, and two, we hated feeling that they were justified in hiding their love. We had to step back and realize that yes, indeed this was a period piece – sadly with some present day equivalents, but still and all not indicative of a modern gay lifestyle. Rural Wyoming was probably not a safe haven for the gays in the mid 1960s. And ultimately, this film isn’t about the right to self expression, it’s about the inability for some men to express themselves at all. Its not like Heath Ledger’s character, Ennis Del Mar has a wonderful relationship with anyone in his life. He may love his two daughters, but is still unable to fully connect with them. The only person who he feels completely comfortable with, and who understands him is Jack. But their brief moments of joy and happiness are always shrouded in a façade of manliness that helps them maintain their notions of masculinity. If these were better times, Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar would have run off to Vermont and opened up a B&B. But it isn’t. And they have commitments which pull them apart. The only thing they are both sure of is their passion for each other. But while their passion may last a lifetime, it cannot sustain their daily life. In the end, “Brokeback Mountain” works beautifully as a tragic love story. The gay “Tristan & Isolde” if you will. You may not have a gay old time at the movies with Jack and Ennis, but you will experience a heart breaking tale of lost love. And who doesn’t want to see that? So, go already. Bless you all!

(End note: To all those homophobes who claim this movie is besmirching their fantasy of the Marlboro Man, obviously they have never seen Howard Hawks’ classic Westerns “Red River” or “Rio Bravo.” You don’t get much gayer than Montgomery Clift and John Ireland comparing the size of their pistols in “Red River”, or Ricky Nelson as the singing cowboy Colorado Ryan in “Rio Bravo.” Yippy-ki-yi-yay, motherfuckers!)

Directed by Ang Lee
Screenplay by Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana
Based on the Short Story by Annie Proulx

Jake Gyllenhaal as Jack Twist
Heath Ledger as Ennis Del Mar
Michelle Williams as Alma Beers Del Mar
Anne Hathaway as Lureen Newsome Twist
Randy Quaid as Joe Aguirre
Linda Cardellini as Cassie Cartwright
Anna Faris as LaShawn Malone
Kate Mara as Alma Del Mar Jr.

Cinematography by Rodrigo Pieto
Film Editing by Geraldine Peroni and Dylan Tichenor
Original Music by Gustavo Santaolalla
Cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto
Film Editing by Geraldine Peroni and Dylan Tichenor
Costume Design by Marit Allen
Production Design by Judy Becker
Art Direction by Laura Ballinger
Makeup by Manlio Rocchetti and Mary-Lou Green-Benvenuti