Saturday, November 05, 2005

An Early Review of 'Brokeback Mountain'

OK, so, tonight I got to go to a press screening for Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain. I've been looking forward to this movie for quite a while now, ever since I first read that it was going to be made a couple years ago. Last October, I picked up a copy of the novella by Annie Proulx that it based upon and I read it while I was vacationing in San Diego. I remember being instantly struck by the eloquence of the storytelling, the incredibly realistic dialogue, and the depth in the characters and their love for each other. It only took me an hour or so to read the short story, but the experience was epic just the same, as it had such a huge affect on me. Anyone who really knows me knows that I'm a sucker for a love story; I'm a die-hard romantic, and reading Proulx's heartbreaking love story was a revelatory experience for me. On top of that, Hollywood has been trying--and failing--for ages to try and deliver a gay-themed movie that demonstrates with utter honesty the "gay experience," yet without all the sensationalistic trappings that most gay-themed movies usually come with. I've often been disappointed that most gay movies are so damned earnest, so damned heavy-handed, so damned silly. And so when I read Proulx's novella, I prayed that Ang Lee would get it right. And boy, does he.

The thing about Brokeback Mountain the movie--and it's also the thing that the actors and Lee have been saying in the press for it--is that it's just a quintessentially epic, all-American love story. It's emotionally devastating in the same way that, say, Casablanca, The Age of Innocence, The English Patient, and even Titanic, have been, yet it's also an incredibly hopeful story, as in Lee's more-than-capable hands, it becomes a yearning cry for--not tolerance, thank God--but simply understanding. It's the kind of love story that can affect even the most jaded of hearts, the kind that may even break through the resistance of the most prejudiced homophobe.

Like the book, the film's strength is its simplicity. The storytelling is uncluttered and matter-of fact, presenting the story in such intimacy that it's impossible not to understand what the characters are feeling. The pacing is even and even a bit on the "slow" side, but never in a way that drags on. Indeed, some of the best moments are found in those that merely present the characters silently eating or having a drink at a bar. The first five minutes of the film alone--when Jack Twist's battered truck humorously sputters into the parking lot where Ennis Del Mar is waiting to meet his new boss--are utterly silent and awkward in the realest sense. And the first time that Jack and Ennis have sex--an incredibly brutal and primal mating that is startling in its graphic intensity, not to mention its "un-Hollywood" lack of romantic frills--is filmed with no talking at all, just the labored breathing of the actors. In these moments and others, all that is not spoken becomes crystal clear to the audience.

I could go on and on about the movie, but I have to save some of this for my official review of the movie (which will be published in IN Los Angeles magazine). Of course, the acting is extremely authentic and bold. How could it not be with Lee (Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger...) involved? Both Heath Ledger (as Ennis) and Jake Gyllenhaal (as Jack) are revelatory in their ability to depict their characters' emotions through stolen glances and tender monologues. Michelle Williams (Dawson's Creek) and Anne Hathaway (The Princess Diaries) bring gravitas to the chief female roles of Alma and Lureen, which have been expanded from the novella into more fleshed-out supporting characters. And Anna Faris (Scary Movie, Lost in Translation), Linda Cardellini (Freaks & Geeks, ER) and Randy Quaid all have memorable turns in their cameos. The screenplay (adapted by Larry McMurty and Diana Ossana) is rich and unaffected in its lyrical storytelling, and the cinematography (by Rodrigo Prieto) is stunning. Actually, everything about the movie is simply beautiful. That's probably the best way to describe it; it's just beautiful.

It remains to be seen whether or not Brokeback Mountain will usher in a new era of gay-themed films in the mainstream, but with this gently heartbreaking story of all-American love, the bar has most definitely been set for so-called "gay cinema." It's a film with the power to educate the ignorant in the ways of true love and connection, regardless of how society often perceives them. Will it change the world? Not likely. But it's a start.

My Grade: A

Hollywood Ken


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