Sunday, January 08, 2006

Homo on the range: "Brokeback Mountain"

Either you laughed out loud at the title of this post, or you're calling GLAAD right now. In any case, you had to see it coming.

Then again, my wife suggested "Humpback Mountain," and I also considered "Broke My Back Mounting."

Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.

After rolling out in the big markets over the last few weeks, the latest gay cowboy romance finally came to my fair burg this weekend. Only one theater had it, making tickets so hard to get that we couldn't catch Jake and Heath doing the nasty until Sunday. (The Lord's Day!!!) It was worth the wait, though, as this is a pretty good movie.

Before dwelling on the plot, let us contemplate Ang Lee. Given his range of movies over the last decade, he's near the top of my list of most intriguing directors. I liked "The Ice Storm" and really liked "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Even "Hulk" was interesting, if uneven. Bottom line: You know Ang will break a sweat and give you something good to look at and think about.

"Brokeback Mountain" is no exception, as you might expect from any movie that has a couple of young cowpokes -- actually, sheep herders -- falling in love. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllllllenhaaaaaal play the lovers, who start their romance while watching a herd of sheep on the eponymous mountain in the summer of 1963. The movie follows them over the course of 20 years as they build lives separately yet come together regularly to keep their romance alive.

Assuming everyone already knows this basic story going into the movie, it's nice to watch the set-up in the first half-hour. We get some truly great scenery -- mountains, valleys, creeks, sheep ... lots of sheep -- while warming up to the two lead characters. Ledger is the stoic, mumbling one, always waiting for someone else to say something before giving a one-line response. Gyllenhaal is more outgoing, never shy with an opinion about their conditions high up on the mountain.

How they get together is pretty interesting, if only because it reminded me of guys in prison. Hear me out ... you have a couple of macho fellas playing tough, but all they've got out there on the mountain is each other. Add the fact that Ledger's character is sort of adrift -- an orphan who has a fiancee but seems more matter-of-fact about it than anything -- and you can kind of see how the two guys could bond and become intimate. I have to admit I wasn't immediately convinced when I saw their first interlude, but it made sense the more I thought about it.

Both guys go on to have families -- Ledger with his pre-Brokeback girlfriend, Gyllenhaal with a rodeo queen. As the boys still get together for "fishing" trips, their wives wonder to varying degrees what is going on. Of these couples, Ledger and Michelle "I'm not blonde anymore" Williams are more compelling, with each of them convincingly playing tortured souls. By comparison, Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway have less depth, although that certainly could be by design given their characters' general shallowness.

(Before I go further, let me share something for the straight guys out there: Both Williams and Hathaway show their boobs. Normally I wouldn't be so blunt, but you should know these things when it comes to gay cowboy love stories. If we're going to see Heath's and Jake's butts, it's only fair.)

While the plot may get a little too sprawling as it covers two decades, it's interesting to see how the guys pull off their double lives. Of the two, Ledger clearly is the more conflicted, and therefore more riveting, character. He has the cowboy stuff down pat in the beginning, talking through his lips and keeping his eyes narrowed. As he and Williams have kids and move on with their lives, he remains low-key, which makes it all the more powerful when he betrays emotions, from his jubilant reunion with Gyllenhaal four years after that summer of '63 to his anger when Williams confronts him about their relationship.

Most people don't remember this because of Halle Berry's "Holy Crap" nude scene, but Ledger showed in "Monster's Ball" that he can be a capital-A actor. He builds on that "Brokeback," and I won't be surprised if it earns him an Oscar nomination. Nothing against Gyllenhaal, who's perfectly fine, but this is Ledger's show, and he really delivers. But you know what? I'm still not watching "A Knight's Tale."


At 9:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This review from the same guy who thought Tender Mercies was boring?

The acting was great, the story compelling, and the scenery was beautiful. None of which changes the fact that this is a two-hour love story where not much happens.

I'm going to see King Kong a second time.

At 5:41 PM, Blogger Jefferson said...

Wait a minute ... are you saying Robert Duvall was gay in "Tender Mercies?"

At 1:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

sounds like someone wanted to see more guy on guy action but is willing to settle for gorilla on naomi watts action

At 4:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you should buck up and watch A Knights Tale.

At 7:12 PM, Blogger chris carmody said...

Heath Ledger's mouth reminded me of one of the cheap Japanese cartoons from the '60s, where the moving lips were superimposed on a "non-moveable" cartoon.

His acting was decent, but THIS old cowpoke kept going, "Ehh, what'd ya say???"

At 7:33 PM, Blogger Jefferson said...

Excellent point on Ledger's mouth. Just think of how good an actor he'll be when his jaw isn't wired shut!

As for "A Knight's Tale," I'm reminded of what a former co-worker once said: "I guarantee this movie will be bigger than 'Titanic.'"

At 8:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, come to think of it, you never see Clutch Cargo and Heath Ledger in the same place.


Post a Comment

<< Home