OCTOBER 17, 2008
Even if I had hated Brokeback Mountain, I would have always appreciated it, because it was the film that made me appreciate living in Los Angeles. I remember seeing the ad on TV a few weeks after I had moved here, and when it said “Starts Friday in select cities.” I instantly thought “Aww...”, but then remembered that I now LIVED in a “select” city. So I went over to Fandango and bought a ticket, which in retrospect was something of a miracle, as it broke records for ticket sales for a limited release that weekend.
It also helped me realize what a douche my coworker is, because a few months later, when the Best Picture nominees were announced, he retorted “Why would I want to see a movie that was sympathetic to homosexuals?”. So I took perverse pleasure in watching the film at work today; I can only hope he saw a scene of Jake and Heath making out before writing his next letter to Sarah Palin (I’m not exaggerating, he legit wrote her a letter last week) or voting yes on Prop 8 or whatever it is ignorant assholes do with their time.
The other day I wrote a review for Keepsake, and pointed out that the film had zero ties, thematically or otherwise, to the previous film from the filmmaker. Now, I don’t think a director ALWAYS needs to explore the same ideas or even use the same composer or whatever to tie his work together, but it’s worth noting that Ang Lee’s previous film was Hulk, and on paper you’d never think that film would have anything in common with a movie “about gay cowboys”, but in reality, the two DO share some thematic similarities. In the end, both films are about a man who tries to suppress his “other” side despite the fact that he actually prefers it. While Jake Gylenhaal’s character eventually begins to sleep around with other guys, Heath Ledger's Ennis never really embraces this aspect of himself. Yet, you can plainly see that he is simply happier when he’s with “fuckin’ Jack Twist”. The only times in the film Heath’s character appears to be happy, or even content, is when he sees Jack for the first time in years, and in the few scenes on Brokeback when they’re not arguing over his inability to leave his wife and “come out”, for lack of a better term.
And even if you’re an ignorant fuck, you can’t deny that it’s a beautifully shot, engaging character study. Heath’s aging is fairly unconvincing (and half-assed - at least Jake grays his air and grows a moustache; Heath’s appearance never changes at all), but the passing of time is otherwise handled beautifully in the film. We don’t get any “3 years later” type nonsense, nor are there any “time passing montages” to annoy us. At one point, Michelle William’s character asks Ennis if they can rent a place on top of a Laundromat; a few scenes later, they are living there (and have been for a while). It is understood that time has passed, that he is trying to make her happy (he initially rejects the idea of moving), etc. without it being beat over our heads.
I also like the ambiguous ending. We’re never quite sure if Jack really did die in an accident or if he was the victim of a hate crime, and that’s fine. It doesn’t matter – he’s gone, and Ennis finally admits, if only to himself, how much their relationship meant to him. It’s a very subtle scene (maybe too subtle; I had to turn on the subs to understand what Heath’s final line is), and a very simple one at that. He simply looks at a shirt hanging in the closet (to give you an idea of how strong the scene is, it was parodied on The Simpsons in an otherwise un-similar episode; something they hardly ever do anymore, especially for a non “geek” film), and the wonderful, heartbreaking Gustavo Santaolalla score begins to play. All this from the guy who gave us the “Josh Lucas outline” in the climax of his last movie.
And, not for nothing, but for a movie known primarily as “the gay cowboy movie”, it’s got some terrific eye candy. Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway (nude!), Anna Faris, Kate Mara, and Linda Cardellini make up the female cast, and not only are they all terrific, but I mean, Christ! Five beautiful woman in a film about two guys? That’s gotta be a record of some sort. It’s also the only GOOD movie in many of their careers (for example, Kate Mara’s other work includes Urban Legend 3, Shooter, and Zoom), so there’s something.
The DVD is actually rather slim, which is a surprise considering its success (it was the highest grossing Best Picture nominee for that year). A lame promotional look that aired on Logo, and a trio of featurettes that total less than 30 minutes combined is hardly what I would call a “wealth” of extras. Another edition came along later, and had some more minor featurettes, but still no commentaries or really in depth looks at the film’s production. Oh well.
Between this and Dark Knight, it’s pretty clear that Heath, who began his career starring in complete garbage like Knight’s Tale, would have been one of our most cherished actors had he not unfortunately passed. It’s a shame that he is gone, but the fact that he was so great in this movie that there was a time that his casting in TDK was considered laughable speaks volumes for his talent. It’s depressing that the film was passed over in favor of one of the absolute worst movies ever made (Crash), and there was a weird sort of circular movement that resulted in him not winning the Best Actor award (Clooney got it for Syriana, as a consolation prize for him not getting the Best Director for Good Night and Good Luck, which went to Ang for this to make up for Crash taking away his rightful Best Picture award!), but the fact that he was nominated for pretty much every award ever for his performance (and won a few) is probably just as good.
In short, if you’ve dismissed this movie because you’re a homophobe, well, you’re even more of an idiot than previously understood.
What say you?