Thursday 30 March 2006

Brokeback Mountain (2005) - ickleReview (cinema)

Ang Lee film set in 1963 initially but spanning twenty years in the lives of two Wyoming shepherds who have a homosexual love for one another frustrated by their own fears of how society will react towards them.

Heath Ledger plays the more reticent of the two men, Ennis Del Mar. He was brought up by his brother and sister and has had quite a hard life. Jake Gyllenhaal is the more forthright Jack Twist, who initiates the physical relationship between them. After their initial summer together spent up on Brokeback Mountain guarding thousands of sheep from the wolves (is there a metaphor there, I wonder?), they don't see each other for four years, by which time they are both married (to Dawson's buddy Michelle Williams and The Princess Diaries' Anne Hathaway - not, incidentally, Shakespeare's wife, who I believe died some time ago). They claim to be old fishing buddies and swanny off to the mountains two or three times a year for the next twenty years. Ennis doesn't have the courage to come out and live on a ranch together because he saw as a child the savage vigilante murder of a gay man.

It's difficult to judge this film fairly: I came to it late with so many preconceptions, although I had tried to avoid reviews so I could form my own opinion on it. It's always labelled "the gay cowboy movie", but it's not: they guard sheep - although there is a plethora of stetson action, thumbs in belt loops, boots, and all-round Marlboro ad posing.

Contrary to what I've been told, this is not one of the best or most important films in cinema history (never trust an Australian's taste, if that isn't oxymoronic enough). There are more sensible and sensitive treatments of gay relationships in The Crying Game and - although I confess I haven't seen it - My Beautiful Laudrette.

Criticisms of this film? The dialogue for the first half hour is impossible to make out, so muffled are the masculine husky voices. The relationship between the two leads is implausible, not helped by the fact that you're waiting for them to get together and think from the first time you see them, "He's a gay cowboy!" I didn't buy the whole rough love thing, although I understand the tensions it was meant to express. It is cinematic, but some of the shots are overly contrived and smack of trailer plugs: the low-angle shot of Ledger, hand in belt, with fireworks exploding behind him, head bowed in Marlboro mystique. Time moves on too quickly: there's no attempt to dwell in the difficult separation the lovers must endure, although it is implied. The whole missing shirt thing is a bit contrived and twee (you'll see what I mean). We could have done without the jump cuts to explain what really happened when Ennis calls Jack's wife near the end (vagueness to avoid being a spoiler). Relies too much on stereotypes. Makes no attempt to place the events of the film in their historical context - a lot of interesting stuff happened in 1963, you know: it was filmed in the traditional Hollywood Western mythic time - albeit 100 years later than John Ford. I'm just not sure the acting was up to much. Elocution lessons, anyone? Heath?

Yes, it is an important film and I welcome more attempts to portray gay relationships on screen. It will take a while to move beyond stereotypes.

Nugget: what was all the fuss about?

This review was also posted on Blogcritics, where I also commented on this review.

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