251 – Brokeback Mountain

The story of a long-time romantic relationship between two cowboys should, in a perfect world, be a beautiful tale. It should show that despite the taboo of same-sex relationships, love and compassion can reign supreme. Instead, we’re stuck with a deadeningly dull piece of slop that would put any sentimentalist to sleep if there weren’t so many goshdarn panoramic views of mountains.

Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis del Mar (Heath Ledger) are itinerant cowpokes who sign up to herd a mess o’ sheep across Brokeback Mountains, and during the long drive, they fall for each other. Only it doesn’t happen gradually, it’s lust at first sight, after a cold night in a hot tent up in the mountains. After that, it’s decades of pining and not immediately getting what one wants.

I honestly believe that this movie has been such a big hit (critically and commercially) because of its same-sex theme, rather than because of its, oh I don’t know, good acting or script. The plot is exceedingly simplistic; it’s so easy to follow, you’ll be able to predict the next scene with ease. But because the two principals are men, suddenly what’s such a humdrum story ascends to an exalted level of genius.

Make no mistake, it’s a pretty picture to look at, and I do recommend watching it with the sound off. Maybe you love lovely scenery – there’s a lot of gorgeous setting. Or maybe you’re a straight woman or gay man and think Ledger and Gyllenhaal are hot hunks. With no sound, you’ll be very happy. Turn the sound on, though, and you’ll quickly realize there’s no there, there. The problem with being a Beautiful Person on the outside, of course, is that people often assume you’re a dullard inside. When Ennis or Jack speaks, there aren’t pearls of wisdom that come dropping out; no, they’re more like balls of silt, spoken either sotto voce or outright mumbled, the better to fame the words as Profound. There’s nothing profound about the movie, other than the vast infinity of the untamed mountains.

The movie perks up only when other actors show up. Randy Quaid has a few short scenes, and he easily outacts the younger leads. Michelle Williams, who plays Ennis’s wife Alma, and Anne Hathaway, who plays Jack’s wife Lureen, light up the screen when they’re there, showing more vigor and passion with the hook of an eyebrow than either of the lunkheaded leads can with every expressionless countenance they can conjur. Ledger, who seemed to be channelling Steve McQueen’s look, mumbles incoherently through much of the movie; this was partly owing to the chaw in his mouth (I presume), but still – when trying to be Profound, it is wise to be Understandable.

I believe that this movie was swept up in hype, as people were first astonished at the man-on-man sex scenes (which looked and sounded as loving as a rape scene, although I’m no expert on gay sex scenes) and then proud of themselves for deigning to watch it. It’s a real shame a taboo like this couldn’t have been broken by a solid, adult film instead of the crappy, one-dimensional cliches and characterizations that screenwriter Larry McMurtry came up with; somehow, in the world of this movie, laconic equals deep.

Brokeback Mountain: *1/2

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