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"Brokeback Mountain"

Directed by Ang Lee.
Written by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana.  Based on a short story by E. Annie Proulx.
Starring Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhall, Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway.
Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  12/21/05


The bond that I share with my dad regarding the movies has always been singular:  we both love cowboy movies.  I can never quite put my finger on what I love most about cowboy flicks, the Western in general; maybe it's the iconic characters, the loners, the guys that spend much of their time promoting justice and little of their time in a shower stall.  Dad's favorite is "Tombstone", that great modern Western with Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, a young Thomas Haden Church, a gratuitous Jason Priestley.  The action is solid but the acting is better; Kilmer should have won the Oscar for his performance as Doc Holliday, and who can forget another forgettable Bill Paxton performance as Whiny Second Fiddle?

For me, I love so many Westerns that I have a hard time picking one.  While "Tombstone" is high on my list, I have always liked "High Noon", "Unforgiven", "Dances with Wolves" and "The Wild Bunch."  Shit, I'll watch "The Quick and the Dead" or--worse--"Posse" if they are on TV, because I just love watching cowboy flicks so much.

The biggest difference between those previous cowboy movies and the new Ang Lee flick "Brokeback Mountain" is that this new entry into the cowboy genre is set in a bit more modern era:  the 1960s and 70s Wyoming and Texas frontiers, instead of life a hundred years earlier.  As such, there are modern conveniences available to our protagonists, be it running water, automobiles, and mechanical bulls.

The other main difference:  "Brokeback Mountain" is about, in the words of the immortal Adam Sandler bit, two guys fucking.

I haven't run the numbers yet, but I think that this is the first cowboy film I have ever seen and liked that has a main plotline centering around cowboys in love.  And, judging from the insane totals of film critic awards and Oscar buzz, it will be the first film to have a shot at an Oscar that is about two guys that like to take "fishing trips" away from their wives in order to bone in the Midwest countryside.

Heath Ledger, who usually appears in marginal-to-awful flicks (he starred in the year's worst movie so far, "The Brothers Grimm"), does yeoman's work as Ennis, a loner out to make some money in the summer of '63 at a sheep herding gig in Wyoming.  His partner in this endeavor, former stranger Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhall), becomes a fast-yet-required friend as the twosome spend their time watching sheep along with their lives flying away in the extended summer season.  One night, seeking refuge from the cold outside, Ennis joins Jack in what turns out to be the first of many casual encounters for these two young bucks...and even though Ennis claims after the first dongfest that he is 100% straight, we all know he's lying and that we are going to explore just how tough it is to play the role of gay lover during a time where folks didn't seem too comfortable with the idea that their neighbor might be a homosexual.

Co-written by "Lonesome Dove" scribe/legend Larry McMurtry, "Brokeback Mountain" has sparse amounts of dialogue but a bevy of great reaction shots, idyllic landscape shots and vivid imagery of men loving other men.  The visuals of this movie really do the speaking for us in long stretches; the dialogue gets you from one scene to the next but then it's up to the acting of our leads (in addition to their respective wives, played by Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway) and they deliver on all levels.  The problems for this film came in the form of the "Eyes Wide Shut"-like one-note transition score (play something different, for chrissakes!!), the aging process of our leads as we get to know them over the course of nearly 20 years, and a lack of explanation in terms of the men not seeing enough of the two wives, the families of the men, even the summer liaison office contact (played by Randy Quaid).  Sometimes, the film is fast-forwarding so fast that you are not sure you even really saw anything; I'm pretty sure one of the sequences cuts three or four years into the future, without any real warning.  I was asking my friends if I had missed something, this was happening so quickly.

But, you can't have it all, right?  (And, if the men in my group had their druthers, "having it all" would have meant having Hathaway show up at our collective front doorsteps to say hi each and every morning the way she says hi to Jack in a naughty backseat sequence.  Whoa, easy "Princess Diaries" girl!)  In a year where films have generally been good, but not great, I think that "Brokeback Mountain" will have a legit shot at the Best Picture Oscar due to all of its buzz right now.  Is there anything that Ang Lee can't direct???

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09