**1/2 (out of 5)
December 30, 2005
Heath Ledger as ENNIS DEL MAR
Jake Gyllenhaal as JACK TWIST
Randy Quaid as JOE AGUIRRE
Anne Hathaway as LUREEN NEWSOME
Michelle Williams as ALMA DEL MAR
Studio: Focus Features
Directed by: Ang Lee
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Eric Cartman from “South Park” once lamented the fact that all independent films were about gay cowboys eating pudding. Well, I’ve seen many independent films over the years, and I hadn’t yet seen anything about gay cowboys eating pudding… until now.
While there’s no pudding anywhere to be found in “Brokeback Mountain,” it definitely has gay cowboys. I don’t want to spoil anything for you in the film, but about a half-hour in, it’s overwhelmingly clear that it’s about gay cowboys. This movie isn’t very subtle.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I may not know any gay cowboys, but I know my fair share of gay men, and I honestly believe there is no problem with it.
Still, that doesn’t make me a huge fan of “Brokeback Mountain.” The film tells the tortured love story of two men in Wyoming and Texas. It follows their long-term affair as they secretly meet, despite their marriages and everyone else’s prejudice. They first meet while herding sheep in Wyoming, and throughout the years meet up for trysts that they conveniently tell their wives are “fishing trips.”
My biggest problem with “Brokeback Mountain” isn’t the gay issue, but rather the dullness of the film. It could be about the sexiest heterosexual couple, and I’d still be bored with it. Ang Lee, who has put together some solid films with compelling action, puts the brakes on hard in this movie. Sure, the scenery is gorgeous, but it’s more like a post card for the Wyoming wilderness.
Characters make or break a film, and there’s just not enough to them to make things work in this movie. Jake Gyllenhaal, who first toyed with a marginally gay character in this fall’s “Jarhead,” brings most of the energy to the story. His foil in the film is Heath Ledger in his second performance this year in which you can’t understand a word he says. (The first was in “Lords of Dogtown,” if you’re keeping score.) Instead of turning in a serious acting performance, Ledger mopes around with a pained look of constipation and mumbles his lines with the clarity of Boomhaur from “King of the Hill.”
There are some noteworthy supporting performances by Randy Quaid and Michelle Williams. Anne Hathaway is fun to watch – especially when she drops her top in the back of a car with Gyllenhaal – but otherwise her role is relatively humdrum.
The film takes place over the course of almost 20 years, beginning in 1963. But unlike other films this season like “Walk the Line,” I just didn’t buy the aging of the actors. Gyllenhaal simply changes his hairstyle and Ledger just looks less and less groomed throughout the film. Williams pulls it off with an understated look, but Hathaway still looks like a teenager in a bad wig while playing the estranged wife in her late 30s.
I would have liked this film more if the characters weren’t so whiny. They talk about getting a ranch together, but the threat of society’s wrath keeps them from doing it. And that’s frustrating to watch. It’s not like the film takes place in the 1860s. I know that sometimes local attitudes can make a less-than-mainstream relationship problematic, but why didn’t they move somewhere more accepting of them?
The current industry buzz says this film is primed to win the Oscar, and I have no reason to disbelieve that. However, the hubbub about “Brokeback Mountain” seems more politically driven in the wake of the gay marriage debate. And an Oscar win will be pandering to that, just as Tom Hanks’ Oscar for “Philadelphia” was pandering to the politics behind the growing AIDS crisis in the early 1990s.
Ultimately, the underlying message of “Brokeback Mountain” is similar to the message in “North Country.” The people in a certain area (in this film, Wyoming and Texas) are intolerant pigs. Nothing like painting your view of society with such a broad brush.