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Category:    Home > Reviews > Western > Drama > Gay > Existentialism > Brokeback Mountain (Widescreen Standard DVD-Video)

Brokeback Mountain (Widescreen)


Picture: C+     Sound: B-     Extras: C+     Film: B



Ang Lee is the most overrated filmmaker of our time, but even he could not ruin Brokeback Mountain, though this critic expected disaster after the overrated Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ice Storm that is a Right-Wingers’ revisionist dream of the 1970s intended or not, I never hear critics celebrating or anyone remembering Ride With The Devil either and let’s not forget the disastrous (if now cult item) attempted update of The Hulk.  Lee almost retired after that fiasco, but reconsidered when he decided to take on the famed screenplay adaptation of the very short story by Annie Proulx, by no less than Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana.  McMurtry’s work on the big screen is already represented by two all-time feature film classics: Martin Ritt’s Hud (1963) and Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show (1971).  Intended or not, Brokeback Mountain (2005) concludes as sort of loose trilogy about the last of The West, the shady side of the American Dream and the individual against the changes (often subtle) that deny them success.


Heath Ledger, saving himself from bad film hell, pulls off an amazing performance out of nowhere as Ennis Del Mar, a young man who is looking to make money at a herding job.  It is here he meets Jack Twist (the amazing Jake Gyllenhaal, who is turning out to be one of the greatest actors of his generation) in the same hiring office of Aguirre (Randy Quaid, who is not in the film much) when both get hired to do the job.  At first, they impress each other with their working skills, then slowly become plain old buddies.  That makes sense, especially if they don’t have any personality clash or have colliding work ethics.  Eventually though, on one cold night, they find a more intimate connection.


It is 1963 and what becomes a physically and sexually intimate moment could be written off as a fluke, experimentation, or just a once-in-a-lifetime thing.  It happens more often than many would admit, and fine.  However, as time goes on, it is obvious that more than a passing connection has developed, even if they do not always get it.  So much so that both eventually marry and have children, but that does not stop them from occasionally getting together.  Are they gay, bi-sexual, is it a long-term infatuation or something else?  One suggestion is that it is about socio-economic class, that they suggest a freedom if they had more money and a person who could identify with that.  Ennis would like to do the same job on a larger, more profitable scale, while Jack wants to go rodeo and live life in a faster lane, though he eventually talks about reviving his childhood home and turning the surrounding area into a productive farming area.


Yet, the sexual affair goes on in fishing get-togethers every few years and they continue to consider some options.  The idea of actually going away with each other and leaving the constraining world behind is considered more impossible by Ennis than Jack, who it turns out was terrorized and essentially sexually abused by association by his father when forced to look at a dead gay man who was viciously abused and mutilated by a homophobic gang of locals who did it because they knew they could get away with it.  Even as the mid-1970s arrives and the Gay Rights movement is in full swing, it never reaches the limitedly educated young men in the still backwards South.  The implications of this far exceed two men involved in any gay relations, which is the true reason why this film hit such a chord with the public.


The fact that so many people were shocked by any of the sexual intimacy here is amazing, showing how backwards even semi-mainstream cinema is.  Mind you, this film has been issued ten years after the failed Gay New Wave and the reaction this film received is yet further proof of what a wreck and missed opportunity a movement by real gay men with real gay men as gay men ignoring AIDS and Civil Rights in a shocking number of films is.  As compared to the real gay sex of Todd Haynes and Greg Akari films, this looks like thought police homosexuality, as sincerely as it is done.  This film proves that even gay sex is more than just about intercourse, something the many failed Gay New Wave films sadly forgot except for the explicit sex, which would have given many critics of this film a heart attack.


And what about the criticism that this film is Marxist?  Well, Marxists would say in any such respect, it was not Marxist enough, while the extreme Right Wingers who make the claim (as if they knew what they were talking about to begin with, which they do not) know full and well this is not just a film about “gay cowboys” and is so intelligent that it is a threat to their supposedly tough and invincible, but really fragile dogma.  They are using homophobia and a faux “pro-Capitalist” position of Neo-Conservative types (always in words, but never actions from people who do their best to destroy the economy versus taking the “Rockefeller Republican” stance of having a strong one) to stop a wide audience from seeing the film, because part of the story is about people working hard to build a life and the right to do that, certainly something not restricted to gays or any other one group.


The problems in the film come when Lee obviously has no idea what he is doing and the most-clever aspects of the material often go over his head.  This created some unintentionally funny moments that would not be obvious, though the evolution (or de-evolution) of Anne Hathaway’s character is done badly in structure and especially makeup.  The most blatant obvious problem is when she is at her oldest, her chest looks (in true late Joan Crawford style) like two gravity-defying footballs that contradict several script points, but I would argue that Lee always has had trouble with female characters, though McMurtry (the truest author of the film by auteur standards) is the opposite.  Directors like Martin Ritt, Herbert Ross, Arthur Penn, John Frankenheimer and even early Jonathan Demme would have fared better, but this film landed up with Ang Lee and that ultimately prevented it from becoming an all-time classic it should have been.  Considering the producers and creators got everything right otherwise, including Michelle Williams, Roberta Maxwell, Peter McRobbie, Anna Faris, Linda Cardellini, Scott Michael Campbell and David Harbor.  Lee still did his job, but much more as a journeyman at best and the film feels it more often than most people seem to have caught.  Still, he lucked out and it is easily his best film by default, though it still feels like shades of Roberto Benigni.


The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image is a bit of a disappointment, with some detail limits and Video Black issues not in line with how good this looked in 35mm prints.  Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, A.S.C., A.M.C., creates a very visually rich series of compositions, and when things become deceptively simple, a new meaning is brought out of the narrative.  That makes it one of the visually strongest films of the year, so too bad the DVD was not up to snuff in this respect.  The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is good, showing off the somewhat minimalist score by Gustavo Santaolalla that does an interesting job of capturing the feel of the time period between the 1960s and 1970s the film takes placed, hovering around the kinds of Country, Pop and even Soft Rock forms of the time, right down to the recurring theme song.


Too bad this was not in DTS, especially since there are no audio commentaries.  Extras does include four featurettes: one about being a cowboy, one on Lee, one on the screenwriters and one on the making of the film in general.  Obviously, much more can be said and just may be said in a later edition, but the film exceeded expectations and will go down as a minor classic if nothing else.  Brokeback Mountain hit a nerve because it arrived at a low point in U.S. history when individuality is talked up and desecrated at the same time.  Don’t let apprehensiveness make you miss this film if you have not seen it yet.  You deserve to see a film this good.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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