Review: Brokeback Mountain

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In 2001, Ang Lee probably deserved to win both the Best Picture and Best Director Academy Awards for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a magical Chinese fable which blended elements of history, romance and martial arts into an unforgettable, surreal adventure. And although Ang has imbued Brokeback Mountain with some breathtaking cinematography, his tortoise-paced, chick flick is simply too slow to unfold to hold an audience’s interest.

On my way into the theater, the usher whispered, “It’s okay if you want to leave early,� as he tore my ticket in half. “You don’t have to stay till the end.� Initially, I assumed he was referring to the latter-day cowboy flick’s homo-erotic theme. But after about an hour of setting the tone against the backdrop of a sweeping, Wyoming, “Big Sky� panorama, I found myself squirming in my seat and checking my watch every five minutes while waiting for something meaningful to transpire on screen.

But Brokeback Mountain, which might have been better named Bareback Mountain, takes its own sweet time to spin a tale of forbidden love between a couple of handsome cowboys who look like the Marlboro Man and one of the Village People. Loosely-based on the E. Annie Proulx short story of the same name, the film stars Heath Ledger as Ennis Del Mar and Jake Gyllenhaal as his secret lover, Jack Twist.
Their 20-plus year affair starts in the Sixties, when the two were hired to guard a herd of sheep, 24/7, on a picturesque hillside far from civilization. Their typically macho exchanges and gruff exteriors eventually melt the night the pair finally decides to share a tent. Rough sex ends with tender kanoodling, though both have second thoughts the morning after. “This is a one-shot thing we got going on here,� Ennis warns. “You know I ain’t queer.�

“Me either,� Jack responds. Yet, despite the distance that their subsequent marriages and the arrival of children would bring, they proceed to embark on one of the most passionate and enduring relationships in screen history. Hiding their true sexual preferences, the gay cowpokes still find a way to make time for illicit liaisons, mostly back where it all began up on Brokeback Mountain.

This bittersweet, latter-day Western focuses wistfully on what could have been, rather than on what Ennis and Jack actually have. For the film frequently implies that both would have been better off had they found the strength to come out of the closet, abandon their responsibilities, and shack up. 

 Meanwhile, the movie fails to address adequately the question of whether such a selfish indulgence might ruin the lives of their wives and kids. Thus, it conveniently ignores all the very serious fallout visited upon the innocent victims of guys “on the down lowâ€? like we see regularly discussed on TV talk shows such as Oprah and Dr. Phil.

In sum, Brokeback’s unapologetically gay agenda aggressively implores us to celebrate homosexuality for homosexuality’s sake. While this approach turns out to be a tad too simplistic for my taste, this cowboy flick’s fatal flaw rests with its extolling the virtues of man-on-man mating to the point of its just being boring. 

The Misfits updated as a gender-bending melodrama. 

Fair (1 star)
Rating: R for expletives, violence, nudity and graphic sexuality.
Running time: 134 minutes
Studio: Focus Features

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