"...Brokeback Mountain feels like an American remake of Happy Together without the charismatic or sympathetic characters."
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Director: Ang Lee
Writer: Larry McMurtry (Adaptation), Diana Ossana (Adaptation), E. Annie Proulx (from short story: "Brokeback Mountain")
Producer: Michael Costigan, Michael Hausman, Larry McMurtry
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, Randy Quaid, Scott Michael Campbell, Anna Faris
Running Time: 134 min.
Plot: An epic love story, set against the sweeping landscapes of Wyoming and Texas, that tells the story of two young men--a ranch-hand and a rodeo cowboy--who meet in the summer of 1963 while driving cattle on a mountain range. They unexpectedly forge a lifelong connection, one whose complications, joys and tragedies provide a testament to the endurance and power of love.
NINGEN'S REVIEW: Despite the book being published the same year the latter film was released, Brokeback Mountain feels like an American remake of Happy Together without the charismatic or sympathetic characters. (On an additional note, a preview for a lesbian-themed film called Imagine Me & You was playing before the main attraction. It's another gay film, which (you guessed it) features the Turtles song from Happy Together.) Brokeback Mountain can be compared to the deleted scenes on the Criterion In The Mood for Love in which the characters meet decades after their split: pointless and repetitive. (BbM even uses the same recurring song from In The Mood for Love!) So I'm assuming Wong Kar Wai's the new HK poster boy for Hollywood to rip-off, now that everyone knows about John Woo.
But all rants aside, how does Brokeback Mountain stand on its own, you might ask? Tediously. BbM is about two sheep herders(played by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhall) stuck in the mountains of Wyoming who have little to eat(no pudding for them in this version). So instead, they eat (and do other things with) each other. But unlike Cannibal the Musical, we don't get any quirky song-and-dance numbers to the tune of hacked up body parts-just dead game. You see, the cowboys were supposed to guard the sheep, but instead they gird their loins with one another. The sheep get killed by the wolves in the process.
Their boss Sgt. Slaughter is not amused, and he refuses to hire them for more work. So Jack (Jake) and Ennis (Heath) go their separate ways and knock up their wives, but refuse to actually care for their children. The husbands would rather screw themselves in the mountains(or other guys in bars) than actually work for a living. But cheating's ok, as long as you're gay, so I'm somehow obligated to feel sorry for them and not their wives being naturally pissed at them shirking their responsibilities.
Jack's luckier, because he's a gold-digger, and he scored with a rich wife. Ennis is not as fortunate, because he fathered two children, but doesn't want to acknowledge their existence. I thought this was supposed to be a movie about tolerance towards homosexuals, but it seems to play into stereotypes which suggest they can be horrible parents.
The two leads are also not very good lookers, either. I can understand why no one in Hollywood wants to hire them, since Gyllenhall is the bitch in the relationship, and Ledger is the asshole. (Gyllenhall's character lets his wife do the talking, while Ledger likes to get into fights-sometimes with his wife.) I don't buy the chemistry between them or the women in the film. The sex(hetero or gay) is rough, while the emotional moments feel forced rather than natural. It's like the actors just want to get it over with, rather than actually come off as believable.
In fact, they're so unsympathetic, I could care less whether they finally get together, which is probably why they had to throw a Titanic-like deus ex machina near the end to force you to care. If the film focused on Jack and Ennis's relationship rather than on their relationships with their families, I might put more emotional investment in the pair, but I just don't find them falling in love after one fling very believable. They don't get along very well in the beginning or near the end, so where's the motivation for them to stay together, other than to get off? (Which is essentially what they do, but which is made to seem like much more.)
It might have helped if the dialogue was more comprehensible. I've been down South, and most of the people I encountered can enunciate their vocabulary better than the actors in the film. To be fair, there was some jerk next to me who kept humming and chuckling over even the weakest of one-liners, but even when he wasn't, it still sounded like mumbling on the screen. But I guess if it wasn't so confusing, critics wouldn't love it.
Then there's the grainy looking DV camera shots. I could rant all day about DV being the worst invention in cinema since the seat with an electric buzzer, but I won't. I'll just say that I go to a movie to escape reality, not live it. And what's the point of a cheap stock which also makes the film seem cheap? It certainly didn't help Tom Cruise in Collateral, or the theater chains which went bankrupt trying to change their 35 mm projectors, so why continue to use it? Write better scripts instead. Anyway, the settings in Brokeback Mountain switch from Crystal Lake, to the bar from The Blues Brothers, to Hazzard County, and back again. In other words, not much variety, adding to the dreariness of the film. Everything Alferd Packer said about Wyoming is true; and this film was shot in Canada!
So anyway, Brokeback Mountain will probably win a Best Picture Oscar for its mediocrity, much like Million Dollar Baby and The English Patient before it. It's not insightful, sensitive, or satisfying, but it'll make some guild feel special for getting it an award, which is all that counts in this business. Of course, I could be wrong, but I still feel right about my review, which is all that counts for me.
NINGEN21'S RATING: 5/10 Depending on how you swing, add an optional 1.5 for Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway topless or Jake and Heath bottomless.