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Culture Reviews
Brokeback Mountain
Dome Cinema 
Directed by Ang Lee. Written by: E. Annie Proulx (story), Larry McMurtry (screenplay), Diana Ossana (screenplay). Starring: Jack Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger. USA, 134 mins. In Russian in Dome Cinema.

By Erik Jansma

Review Top Sheet: Epic love-story of two cowboys set in the depressing yet beautiful redneck state of Wyoming. Take a true story of a Pulitzer price winner, let two Western veterans make a screenplay of it, bring on two hotshot young Hollywood actors and let a visual magician mix it all up. Made for winning Oscars.

I walked out of the movie thinking I saw a good movie. The people I went with liked it too. Nobody left the cinema during the 2 hours and 14 minutes running time. Brokeback Mountain features stunning landscapes, a very good cast, nice music and everything else a movie needs to get nominated for many Oscars and winning three. You’re likely to join the straight and gay crowd praising the movie to heaven. I didn’t, because Ang Lee can do better and has done so…


Will you like this film?

Yes if: You liked “Memoirs of a Geisha”
No if: You liked “The Ice Storm”
Maybe if: You skip the last 20-or-so minutes

Comments: Brokeback Mountain was made for winning Oscars. It therefore keeps away from being all too critical and sharp. It contains no news, no controversies and is politically correct. The visual quality of the movie and the skills of the cast make this movie likeable. It is gay movie for the whole family, so to say.

It therefore is entertaining and certainly worth watching. You can keep up with the story easily and are even treated to a semi-optimistic ending. You will even feel good and slightly concerned after watching it.

Personally, I felt more than a bit let down, as I have seen director Ang Lee deliver better and more sincere films. And as Brokeback Mountain remains superficial, I can only conclude that The Academy and as many visitors as possible were the main motivations for making this movie. It’s just only a bit better than your regular blockbuster.

Out-of-five star ratings:
Story: **
Dialogue:***
Substance:*
FilmCraft:****

Story Comments: As already the film poster shows clearly, this movie is about two cowboys in love with each other. Obviously, this relationship comes with frustrations, longing, desperation and. The movie zooms in on some crucial moments that take place in a twenty-year period, updating the viewer on how nature struggles with nurture.

As Wyoming, USA, is presented as a pretty backward, redneck, boring place with awful summers and many sheep, you might expect that this just can’t end up in a “happily ever after”. Towards the end of the movie, things indeed have turned quite ugly and come to a climax in a scene that shows how brilliant an actor Jack Gyllenhaal is.

At this point, and for a short while afterwards, “regret” is written all over the movie and it’s characters. Pause and think of the final scenes of The Ice Storm, Ang Lee’s story of family self-indulgence in the 70s. Got it? Same thing here, but hold on!

From the moment where the end titles should kick in, along with a melancholic song, the movie continues endlessly, in search of a more or less hopeful, if not happy ending. Finally, it picks a previously under-exposed sub-plot and ties it in, in order to provide the movie with an artificial, bittersweet and hopeful ending. Handkerchiefs, please!

It maybe does the trick for the honourable members of the Academy and those sobbing reviewers who use the word “bittersweet” as a compliment, but to me this “plot twist” robs the movie of integrity and makes it just another politically correct and meaningless movie. I wonder if this makes the BAFTA like The Ice Storm did.

Dialogue Comments: The apparently limited vocabulary of Wyoming locals makes up for the sometimes inaudible gnawing that takes place. You will get enough chances to get used to it though. The first part of the movie doesn’t really have too much conversation in it and gradually, the characters become more talkative.

The dialogs define the characters in this movie. Heath Ledger’s character Ennis is introvert and he is sparing with his words. Jack, the more eloquent character by Jack Gyllenhaal is never short of words and is much more able to express himself. This is completely in line with how Jack takes initiatives and tries to enrich his life, one way or the other, while Ennis is and remains stuck between two lives.

There are some jokes, too. They aren’t too witty or cynical, which is no surprise if you look at the story and substance of this film. It may get some sniggering started in the cinema, but you won’t be rolling off your chair in spasms of laughter. It’s all very, very safe.

All in all, the dialogs are reasonably good as they fit the movie and serve the purpose of it.

Substance Comments: The movie is based on a short story that E. Annie Proulx wrote in 1997. A year after, a man was killed in a gay bashing, similar to the one in Proulx’s story. Now, Wyoming doesn’t seem to be the most progressive in the USA, which makes it safe to assume that if this sort of stuff happened eight years ago, it still does now. So, I wonder why then the same story is thrown back in time over twenty years for the purpose of this movie.

If it is to tell us that Wyoming is a very, very conservative state –and Texas too: well, thanks, I sort of had that impression already… If it is a warning to gays that they’d better stay in the closet in rural, backward areas: something tells me that gays have figured that one out too… And if it is a warning for bad summers and sheep on the loose: Wyoming is not exactly on my shortlist for holidays.

The movie does have parallels with The Ice Storm in showing how actions of a few may have a rippling effect on others’ lives. It, too, shows it without prejudice and through clear and sharp observation. However, if you realise that the whole problem is that sex between to guys will be punished with violence in the traditional cowboy society, it is a bit disappointing that this movie shuns confrontation in favour of Oscar nomination-inducing political correctness. The forced optimistic end makes it even worse. This movie wasn’t supposed to have substance, just pretty pictures and a so-called controversial theme to give it attention and win some Oscars.

Yes, the movie triggers thoughts and therefore isn’t bad. But it could and should have been better in the hands of Ang Lee.

Filmcraft comments: You can rely on Ang Lee to make a movie look and sound nicely. And on this subject, the master has not sold out. Even better, the scenery and more importantly the way it is visualised is no less than stunning. There are hardly any computer graphics involved and the craft of filming with the right diaphragm, light and focus is pushed to an almost incredibly high level. Talking about eye candy!

The casting is also very good. Heath Ledger, although over-acting a bit towards the end of the movie, plays consistently and adds credibility to his role. Jack Gyllenhaal outplays himself and displays a versatility that is rare. The supporting actors do their job without becoming too prominent, and at the same time they don’t stop mattering. Very well played and very well directed.

Together with introspection into an extremely traditional world that most of us can only imagine but not experience, the filmcraft is the one and only reason for seeing this one on a big screen and not waiting for the DVD.

A taste of the story: Boy meets boy on a mountain. They meet again. And again, and again, and again, only to find out that all is lost.

05.04.06
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