Monthly Archives: January 2006

Me, You, and Everyone We Know (2005)

This movie is going to affect people very differently. Writer/director Miranda July, a note performance artist, has created a world of people fumbling for human connection. It’s deeply arty, meaning that meaning will be considerably different per viewer. For whatever reason, I was able to ride July’s artistic wavelength and enjoyed the series of oddball characters and weird vignettes, like a chain of cars keeping a goldfish alive atop one of their roofs. The film deals frankly with sexuality and involves teens experimenting, but the film exists in a world where sexuality still had its curiosities and detached humor, truly like a kid’s point of view. This movie has two of the most profoundly romantic moments of any film I’ve seen all year, but they are just moments. Me, and You, and Everyone We Know is a movie built around moments. There are enough of them for me and I appreciated July’s unique voice.

Nate’s Grade: B+

Advertisements

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

The visuals by Tim Burton are suitably lavish but it’s missing the heart of the 1971 film. I never thought I’d say a movie worked despite Johnny Depp’s performance, but that’s the case here. It was far too off. Whereas Gene Wilder had the dichotomy of warmth and madness, Depp was just the kooky Michael Jackson-esque weirdo in a bobbed haircut (I thought Neverland had been found). Perhaps the added Michael Jackson vibe makes the premise a lot darker, what with luring children into a chocolate factory. Charlie is a really boring character lacking definition beyond his “goodness.” Once they get to the factory he?s basically wallpaper, watching his peers fall one by one to their vices. I’m not sold on a Wonka back-story. I don?t need to know why he is as he is; I need no tormented childhood and daddy issues. This new film has more polish but the old film has more togetherness and lasting power.

Nate’s Grade: B-

The New World (2005)

I’m not a Terrence Malick fan. There, I’ve said it. I think he’s got a great eye for visuals, however, I’ve never been impressed by any of his films. I hated 1998’s The Thin Red Line and its exhausting supply of narrators so much that I wanted to walk out of the theater. The only other movie I felt the same impulse, at the time, was Lost in Space. As you can see, not good company. It’s been a long time since that nightmare so I figured it would only be kind to give Malick another chance. His new film, The New World, looks to deconstruct the mythic relationship between settler John Smith and Native American princess, Pocahontas (perhaps best known for painting with the colors of the wind, or so Disney would have me believe). To my non-surprise, The New World is everything I thought it would be, namely ponderous, pretentious, and quite bad.

It’s 1606, and the world is about to change forever. A cadre of ships bound from England ground ashore on the Virginia coast in search of a settlement and, hopefully, a vibrant colony. The Captain (Christopher Plummer) warns that his men must treat the “naturals” with care; after all, this is their homeland. The Native American inhabitants treat the new settlers with curiosity, poking them, smelling them, and then tolerating their existence … for now. John Smith (Colin Farrell) comes to America in chains, the result of an ill-fated mutiny, but the Captain gives him new life. He commissions Smith to send an envoy deep into the Native American village to seek trading partners. Along the way he is captured and about to be executed when he’s saved by a young girl (Q’Orianka Kilcher), a.k.a. Pocahontas though the name is never spoken once. Smith is allowed to stay with the tribe and he deeply grows fond of Pocahontas. The two are blocked by culture and language, but their feelings persist. Smith is ordered to go back to his people. If they do not leave the land there will be war. The two civilizations are set to butt heads, and the love between Smith and Pocahontas is precariously trapped between.

2006newworldOh yeah, and after Smith leaves to go on an exploratory mission for the king, John Rolfe (Christian Bale) comes to the Jamestown settlement to woo Pocahontas himself.

Let’s get this bit of semantics out of the way. Terrence Malick doesn’t make movies, he makes nature documentaries. He doesn’t so much involve a plot as he does a large open space for his characters to pontificate about the world around them, mostly through whispery voice over. Malick fans will take in his artistic capture of sight and sound, but the rest of us out there will be scratching our heads, that is, when we’re not falling asleep. Seriously, how do you edit something like this? How does Malick know that THIS shot of a tree blowing in the wind needs to be slotted here, while this OTHER shot of a tree blowing in the wind needs to definitely come later? Malick is a stubborn mystery. He’s less interested in crafting a good movie than he is breaking the rules of what film can be. That’s all well and dandy when you put out an entertaining product. The only way I think The New World could be entertaining is if: 1) you adore long, poetic scenes of nature, or 2) you hate yourself.

It seems needless to talk about the acting. Farrell (Daredevil, Minority Report) seems like a good choice for a hardluck man overwhelmed by his new environment. Kilcher could be a fine actress, she certainly is rather beautiful, but the jury’s still out on her emoting. Plummer  is so good that you’ll miss him dearly when he’s gone. Most of the acting revolves around silence and reactions, which is not the most captivating material.

The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki (Sleepy Hollow, Lemony Snicket) is obviously beautiful, taking great pains to showcase Virginia in a near mythic quality. But a film built around pretty pictures and idling characters can only go so far. Your attention span is so strained you may start doing your checkbook in your head. Oh ye God is The New World’s score terrible. It’s like James Horner collapsed on his keyboard, they recorded it, looped it, and just made it get louder and louder.

The-New-World-001It seems like Malick wrote his story on the back of his hand. So very little happens. I’m not as distraught about the immense lack of dialogue, because venturing into a foreign land with foreign people likely doesn’t produce a lot of conversation when no one can understand you. However, the only things we have to push the story forward are some repetitive, junior high-esque poetry disguised as introspective voice over. Pocahontas keeps waving her arms about like she’s directing airplanes, and then she ponders, “Mother, are you there? Are you in the wind?” She even hugs a tree at one point, perhaps thinking it’s her mother. What do you want; she’s the baby of like 100 kids. Malick is so frustrating and pretentious that he will bludgeon to death an audience rather than invite them into his artistic world. He definitely doesn’t make it easy or rewarding.

As far as romance is concerned, the relationship between John Smith and Pocahontas is curiously platonic. Both fall hard for the other but nothing ever dares to rock the PG-13 rating. The furthest these crazy kids get in expressing their love is hugging. I realize that Kilcher was only 14 years old when this was shot, but that doesn’t stop Malick from turning her into pseudo-artistic jailbait. When he’s not filming nature he spends an awful long time on Kilcher prancing around; the camera is practically fawning over her. I get it; we’re supposed to feel the spirit of this girl and her connection with the world around her. That’s why John Smith falls for her. But then nothing seems to happen in their puppy love courtship. It’s all too chaste to be epic or even slightly memorable. Then at the start of the third act Farrell leaves and in pops Bale, and the audience is going, “Oh, c’mon, we have to go through all that again?!” Sure enough, The New World starts all over and another man goes through the same courtship steps with Pocahontas. They touch the grass. They share looks. They talk to the wind. They murder my patience. The New World is a love story suffocated by hesitation and Malick’s own disinterest.

The New World
is emblematic of why I’ll never be a Terrence Malick fan: it’s long, drifting, unfocused, ponderous over entertaining, and just plain friggin’ boring! If you’re a scenery buff you’ll garner some enjoyment from Malick’s images, but people looking for story, character, and any sort of movement will be lost with this 135-minute rumination on man, nature, and man touching nature …. very…. slowly. If this is all you are going to do then stop making movies and just make nature specials, Malick. The New World is pretentious, dull, and stubborn down to its very last second. It once took Malick 20 years in between movies. I wouldn’t mind if he took another 20-year hiatus.

Nate’s Grade: C

The Skeleton Key (2005)

The marketing said it was horror (voodoo, creepy kids), but it’s less a horror movie and more a Twilight Zone tale. It has its share of jump scares and tries to draw out an atmosphere of dread. You see a lot of how doors work from inside locks. The Skeleton Key tries to be overly clever despite its plot holes, but at least the film runs its course. It wasn’t trying to throw out a contrived ending. Kate Hudson needs better roles than these do-nothing parts; she’s far too cute to languish. And how many times did she inspect late-night noises in her underwear? The most entertaining aspect of The Skeleton Key may be gazing at a pre-Katrina New Orleans.

Nate’s Grade: B-

Corpse Bride (2005)

Not as good as Nightmare Before Christmas, but really, what can be? Tim Burton second stop-motion animated film is beautifully crafted and emotionally involving. It’s interesting because all three characters in the movie’s love triangle have really done nothing wrong, and our sympathies are stretched to all three. The contrast of the world of the living (drab, formal) and the dead (colorful, lively) is stark, and death in Corpse Bride is presented as simply another stage of living. Therefore, you don’t have to worry about scaring the kids with this one. The ending is a bit too conventional and the songs are all lackluster, nothing ever as remotely hum-able as Danny Elfman’s masterpieces in Nightmare Before Christmas. Despite the unfair comparisons, Corpse Bride is easy on the eyes, amusing, and nicely romantic.

Nate’s Grade: B

Lord of War (2005)

Andrew Niccol is back in my cadre of cool. He’s responsible for two awesome movies (Gattaca, The Truman Show) and one very lackluster Hollywood satire (Simone). But now the man is back and Lord of War is a startling look into the amoral world of international arms dealing. The film is enthralling as Uri (Nicolas Cage) narrates us about the ins-and-outs of his world a la Ray Liotta in Goodfellas. Not to be outdone by a juicy narrative by Niccol the writer, Niccol the director adds lots of stylish flash to his tale. The opening watches the manufacturing and journey of one bullet, it’s ending destination in the head of a little African boy caught in the crossfire. It’s jarring, it’s powerful, and it’s direct. That’s Lord of War in a nutshell.

Nate’s Grade: A-

Hostel (2006)

Eli Roth is a name that excites me. After watching his 2003 debut Cabin Fever, it was love at first sight. My friends were skeptical but one by one I convinced them that Cabin Fever was a campy, jaunty, unapologetically hilarious good time. I’ve made Roth disciples out of my fellow human beings. Naturally, I was looking forward to Roth?s follow-up, Hostel. I had heard the rumors that the flick was based on a true story of a South East Asian website, though said site can no longer be confirmed. Whatever the muse may have been, Hostel‘s got the added cache of Quentin Tarantino?s name slapped aboard as a “presenter” thus ensuring to the young male demographic that Hostel should be, “frickin’ sweet.” While not reaching the rapturous entertainment heights of his debut, with the grisly Hostel, Roth proves that he’s no flash in the pan.

Over in Amsterdam, Paxton (Jay Hernandez, Friday Night Lights) and his best friend Josh (Derek Richardson, Dumb and Dumberer) are living it up. They’re on the hunt for pot, poontang, and an endless array of good times and cheap thrills. They’ve got big wallets and big appetites. They’ve befriended Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson), an Icelandic horn dog willing to be their guide throughout their most excellent European adventure. While locked outside their stay, the trio learns of a mythical youth hostel all the way in Slovakia. The girls are buxom, beautiful, and go absolutely wild for boys with foreign accents, particularly Americans. This is an opportunity worth salivating over for our trio. They book a train for Slovakia and it looks like this hostel could be the Playboy Mansion of the former Soviet bloc. The women are frequently naked, open to most any suggestion, and eager to please the American visitors.

Ah, but things are not what they seem. The young Americans check in but they don’t check out, at least in one cohesive piece. Our Slovakian sirens are leading their horny backpackers to their doom. Tied with the hostel is a large, empty warehouse that a lot of high-pitched, ear-splitting screams seem to waft out of. Inside is a dungeon where those willing to pay the right price can torture, mutilate, eviscerate, and kill a person. Can Paxton, Josh, and Oli even hope of surviving such a place?

Even for a horror movie, Hostel has a lot of nudity. Normally, being a red-blooded American male with a fondness for the female form, this wouldn’t bother me, but the film does seem to be topped with an incredible amount of sex scenes and nudity during its sloshy build-up to the horrors that await. Many will cry “exploitation!” or “gratuitous!” and, though I’d agree with both, I must remind all fans of the genre that the bedrocks of horror are exploitation and voyeurism. Let me theorize why Hostel‘s first half is as it is. Sex and violence in horror movies are always linked, particularly the violence as retribution for wayward sexual indulgences. So then, if the second half of Hostel is a sickeningly display of cruelty, torture, and mankind at its most heartlessly gruesome, wouldn’t it make sense, in retrospect, to up the ante on the debauchery in the first half to even out the tone? Makes some sense to me but then again I’m not arguing over extra nudity for my dollar.

One of the most interesting elements of Hostel is how it makes you root for the ugly Americans. The first half of the film shows Paxton, Oli, and to a far lesser degree Josh, as booze hound backpackers interested in tasting the wares, be it through illicit drugs or illicit encounters with the local ladies. They?re stomping through Europe in an arrogant, obnoxious, near-reprehensible fashion trying to score some cheap thrills. Eli Roth doesn’t intend for an audience to align themselves with these tail-chasing characters, except for the more sympathetic Josh. And then once the boys enter Slovakia and become the cheap thrills themselves, Hostel turns on the surprise factor. After profoundly disliking these misogynistic party animals, we root for them to survive. This goes against most modern horror, particularly slasher flicks, where the audience is rooting for the grisly demise of its empty-headed horny teenage cast. The audience hungers for death and titillation. In Hostel, we’re presented with boorish backpackers and, despite everything prior, we really want them to succeed and get rescued from their dungeon of horrors. The last act only confirms this further. I don’t know about your theater, but mine was rollicking and roaring as they rooted for the home team to pull it out.

Truth be told, the set-up is a bit overly long, though nowhere near as boring and comatose as Wolf Creek (maybe Roth was smart to put in a lot of boobies). In Wolf Creek, we watched a group of uninteresting “characters” drive around and get lost for a whole friggin’ hour. That movie went from boring to “oh, is something happening?” to over. At least Hostel had movement and relevance to its set-up, including characters and situations that will be repeated later. Some of it is a bit heavy-handed, especially with the sex/violence link and a blowtorch torturer repeating, “Get your own room,” but Hostel finishes with a grand flourish. Roth weaves back different storylines and characters in clever ways and serves the audience vengeance on a platter, and we just gobble it up. I was jumping in my seat, pumping my fist, and, forgive me, shouting at the screen during Hostel‘s final act. It’s somewhat paradoxical for me to be disgusted by violent retribution so recently with Spielberg’s Munich and then a week later to be relishing it. I credit the tones of the films. While Munich is contemplative and realistic, Roth’s Hostel is a squirmy, over-the-top, dark comedy with some moments of cringe-worthy horror. Hostel‘s fabulous finish may erase any lingering doubts you had over the very Euro Trip opening.

Roth has a great sense of visual flavor with his shot arrangements but he also knows when to draw upon our dread. Hostel is really more of a survivalist thriller than a horror movie. Sure, torture and gore is prevalent but a lot of the violence and gruesome makeup is unexpectedly played down in limited appearances. This isn’t the shocking sadistic movie that outcries have made it to be. Without a doubt, I think Eli Roth is the most promising name in horror. Cabin Fever is one of my all-time favorite good-time flicks, and now with Hostel, Roth has proven that he can work miracles with a small budget and a giant, depraved imagination. Hostel is more disturbing than horrific but Roth knows exactly what chord to strike, what scenes to hit, and what sounds to echo to make you want to cover your eyes.

Roth’s best attribute, besides a pleasing visual sensibility, is his twisted sense of humor. Cabin Fever was more humor than horror, and also took an extended set-up before the gore was unleashed, but Hostel makes the flip and is more horror than humor. That’s not to say Hostel is without its dark, jovial jollies. Roth seems to approach his gore, outside of the torture sequences, with a macabre absurdity, like a character slipping on dismembered fingers only to chainsaw their leg off, or a character pretending to be dead and gets a severed hand placed on his face. Somewhere, Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi are nodding their heads in approval. Surely Tarantino is amused. Granted, Cabin Fever was more of a tongue-in-cheek fever dream homage to 70s horror, but Hostel has its share of twisted humor which elevates it far above most recent horror, either the boring and meandering (see: Wolf Creek) or the single-mindedly shocking (see: High Tension). This is what excites me about an Eli Roth horror movie: his lively, warped, depraved sense of humor. If people claim that Roth is one sick bastard, then I must also be one sick bastard for finding his movie funny and highly amusing in spurts.

There are so many moments that I loved, from the opening cleaning-up, to seeing the Slovakian sirens on their day off sans make-up and totally trashed, to the Bubblegum kid gang, to the Takashi Miike (Audition) cameo, to knowing that killing an American is the most expensive option, to seeing the ins and outs of a facility dealing in murder for money, to seeing the equivalent of the Dunkin’ Donuts guy (“Time to chop up the bodies…”), to the madcap, fist-pumping race to the finish. There?s so much Hostel does right, not just as a horror movie but simply as a movie itself. I wouldn’t mind taking another trip to Hostel with a big group of my less-than-squeamish friends. Oh who am I kidding, horror movies are more fun when you see them with the squeamish.

Eli Roth has crafted a dirty, depraved, but highly amusing horror film. Hostel is full of surprises, from an overly long set-up that couldn’t have more female nudity if it tried to, and actually making an audience root for the survival of the ugly Americans when things get dicey. The premise may be sickeningly realistic but the rest of the movie is on an overdrive of macabre fun. Roth’s twisted yet gleeful sense of humor is what makes him unique, and his attention to atmosphere and compounding dread is what will make him successful. There’s no faster rising horror name, in my mind, than Eli Roth. Hostel may not fully be the down-and-dirty horror film its ads have made it out to be; it’s certainly more of a thriller with a heaping helping of gore. This is one experience well-worth booking, especially if you have a strong stomach and a dark sense of humor. I can only imagine that the tourism industry for Slovakia is about to drop precipitously. Unless, of course, they add more naked boobs. Girls Gone Wild indeed.

Nate’s Grade: B

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Go ahead and work the snickers out of your system. Brokeback Mountain has been dubbed “that gay cowboy movie,” and been condemned by certain fundamentalist Christian organizations as “a very dangerous and insidious message to America.” But what message is Ang Lee’s film even putting out there? It seems to me that Brokeback Mountain is putting a human face on a slur, making homosexuals look like you or me. For some that prospect may be terrifying. The movie is playing well on the blue-state coasts, expectedly, but it’s also surprisingly playing well in America’s heartland. It seems that people are lining up all over to see a movie about two gay cowboys in love. And perhaps the more people that witness Brokeback Mountain, the harder it will be to listen to those so-called family advocacy groups with their sterling Christian morals. Maybe people will really see what’s behind many of the words of outcry – hate and ignorance (I am in no way insinuating that disliking the flick means you are homophobic). Despite all this political talk, Brokeback Mountain is by no means a political movie. It’s a love story, above all, and it’s a doozy.

In the summer of 1963, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) is a quiet man looking for work in rustic Wyoming. He finds a job as a sheep herder working atop the canyons and mountains of Brokeback. Working alongside Ennis is Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), a charismatic rodeo rider. The weeks are long and Ennis and Jack are all the company they have, excluding the hundreds of sheep they tend. Eventually, the more taciturn Ennis finally opens up and bonds with his herding partner. “That’s more words than you’ve spoken in two weeks,” Jack says. “Hell,” Ennis adds, “That’s the most I’ve spoken in a year.” The rules have been laid out: every night one man sleeps in a tent campsite, the other sleeps next to the sheep to guard them. Well one night Ennis has had too much whisky and cannot make it back to the sheep. Jack invites him to sleep in the tent instead of freezing outside. Then something surprising takes place – both men have an alcohol-fueled bout of rough sex. The next morning both men stress they “ain’t queer,” but they have a hard time fighting their feelings inside. Ennis warns that, “If this thing, it grabs hold of us again… at the wrong place… at the wrong time… and we’re dead.” He recounts a childhood memory where his father showed him the corpse of an older homosexual man, brutally beaten and mutilated. For them, their love must stay on Brokeback Mountain.

photo157qoThe men part ways. Ennis marries Alma (Michelle Williams), a quiet woman after his own heart, and fathers two daughters. In Texas, Jack meets fellow rodeo rider Lureen (Anne Hathaway) and gets involved in a relationship with her, fathering a son of his own. But Jack still thinks of his Brokeback pal and sends him a postcard. Ennis nearly lights up at the returned sight of Jack and the two passionately embrace. He tells Alma that Jack is an old “fishing buddy” and they sneak away every few months for a fishing getaway. Really the men are returning to the countryside to rekindle the love that they haven’t left behind. But can they keep their love a secret, and should they even have to?

I wonder if Lee would ever have directed this if 2003’s Hulk didn’t bomb so badly. Lucky for us, he’s taken the Brokeback helm and infuses lots of emotion into the story. The Wyoming countryside (actually Canada, but it’s all close enough) is gorgeous, and the film has a great earthy feel. Best of all, Lee allows his love story to breathe and go at its own pace, never cutting corners or rushing an emotion. There’s a lovely, lilting feel to the film, and Lee’s guided hand allows the story to play out to its grand promise. Based on Pulitzer Prize winner Anne Proulx’s 11-page short story, screenwriters Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove, The Last Picture Show) have given incredible depth and subtext to the tale. McMurtry, in particular, has great knowledge of the West and the cowboy lifestyle, and the screenplay gives you an idea of small-town Western life. There are a few moments at bars, social scenes, stores, but they brilliantly give you every detail you’d need to know about this way of life. I even loved how the people of Wyoming wore fashions that were five years removed from their height of popularity, which is exactly how fashion moves around to the smaller parts of America. Ossana and McMurtry are also commended for presenting their characters as people first and never as agenda bulletins. All three lend a level of authenticity that makes the story feel organic and never trite.

In films about forbidden desire and heartbreak, the acting is the cornerstone for how powerful the tale resonates. The acting in Brokeback Mountain is phenomenal. Ledger is the breakout star and the majority of the film’s focus. He gives the performance of his life (I know, not saying much). Ledger is outstanding as the reserved, taciturn Ennis, brought to believe that queers were something sub-human and now he wrestles with his own identity. He may be a restrained man of few words but you see every emotion bubble under the surface, every conflict played out in his eyes. Ledger’s few violent or emotional outbursts are startling because they show an uncontrollable feeling, one even he can’t withhold 24/7.

Gyllenhaal has the showier role but masterfully displays the frustration of forbidden love. He’s willing to sacrifice everything for Ennis, and the fact that Ennis won’t do likewise tears him apart. Isn’t love enough, he wonders. There’s a moment in the film that so sharply displays Jack and Gyllenhaal as an actor. It involves two different shots in a moving truck. The first is Jack headed to Ennis’ ranch, singing, bouncing, and with a wall-to-wall smile. The second is Jack driving away from the ranch unfulfilled, sullen, broken, and seemingly unable to cry another tear. It’s two small moments and they sum up Jack and Gyllenhaal perfectly. The only thing unsettling about Gyllenhaal’s performance is his late 70s porn star ‘stach. With his tremendous work in Jarhead and now Brokeback Mountian, Gyllenhaal is in class all his own (he’s got the dreamiest doe-eyes in Hollywood).

The ladies of Brokeback Mountain have less screen time to play with but they each deliver fine performances. Williams is a silent, put-upon mother and is shattered when she discovers her husband’s secret love. She just crumbles. She’s never the same and Williams showcases her character’s distress and mounting bitterness. One of the film’s highpoints is her confrontation with Ennis, many years later, finally sharing all that she knows. Me thinks an Oscar nod is headed in her post-Dawson’s Creek future. Hathaway plays quite an opposite character. She begins as a wild, headstrong cowgirl with a healthy sexual appetite, something perhaps Jack sees as a reflection of his self. Then their love dies at some point and she pours herself into work, but Hathaway illuminates every step along the way. Her small smile during a scene where Jack finally browbeats her obnoxious father is terrific. And girls, if you’re having trouble dragging your significant other to see Brokeback Mountain with you, remind them that both ladies get naked at some point.

This is an elegiac, engrossing love story. Brokeback Mountain is not necessarily a “gay thing,” more so it’s a story about forbidden love and about the consequences of moving forward without ever letting go. That sounds universal, right? Nothing “gay” about that. Brokeback Mountain explores the force of love and shows how uncontrollable and unpredictable it is. Jack and Ennis are just as surprised by their feelings and their rough night of passion as the audience, but the happiness they share is hard to argue.

photo_06Because of the film’s gentle pace, and Lee’s loose control, we really immerse ourselves in their relationship as they frit away the hours looking after sheep. There was a woman in my theater (I won’t name names, partly because I don’t know hers) who felt that Brokeback Mountain was far too slow and could have been put to better use by cutting 2 hours out. The film’s placid pace is integral to the story’s success; you need to see how expansive that countryside is to feel alone, you need to have the many small conversations to draw out a closer camaraderie, you need the added time to open up to these men, and then once you have –BAM! — they turn their worlds upside down. This buildup is necessary for our connection to the characters but it’s also essential so we can understand what happens. Yes, the film portrays love as it truly is: an all-encompassing emotion that can be as maddening as it is passionate. But Brokeback Mountain doesn’t dare introduce a gay romance, something so dangerous in this land, all lickity-split. It’s supposed to be a surprise to these men, grown up with John Wayne movies and strong, silent role models. The movie enjoyably takes its time to seduce an audience with its tale before choking out every last tear in the end.

The tragedy of Lee’s film is that these men have each found the love of their life but, because of society’s prejudices, are not allowed to act. As a result, each man puts on a different face and pretends they’re a happy heterosexual Western buck for the public, but each is being eaten away inside. Ennis drinks a lot and is full of self-loathing. Jack is less publicly reserved about his feelings and finds momentary comfort with other warm bodies, mostly through silent nods with other closeted gay men. I’m reminded of a line in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia: “I have a lot of love to give; I just don’t know where to put it.” Ennis and Jack cannot quit each other but they also tragically can never fully commit to one another, at least without any threat of ostracism or death. That’s the power of Brokeback, that it shows you these simple men, shows you their love, and then won’t let that happy ending ever manifest that we yearn for. When we reach our somber, haunting conclusion there weren’t many dry eyes in the theater, mine included. Brokeback Mountain is a love story that won’t let itself be happy, and that’s what provides all the kicks to the gut and lumps in your throat.

I think some of the more hostile criticism of Brokeback Mountain is because of how normal Jack and Ennis are presented. Neither is a swishy stereotype, neither is any less of a man, and that notion probably terrifies the homophobes:  “Well, they look normal, and if they get gay then maybe I will too!” That’s a shame really, because those ignorant few will miss out on a powerful, sweeping, complex, aching love story with fantastic acting. Ledger and Gyllenhaal will make you feel every moment of joy, every moment of pain, and every lingering conflict on what makes them whom they are. Lee stressed that he wanted to show the world a love story where you really felt that love was an uncontrollable force. His heartfelt, touching film is a revolution for being a normal love story, albeit with two classic Marlboro men. There is no propaganda, no gay agenda, but perhaps the film will open people’s eyes and strip away any narrow definitions we have toward the ownership of love. Brokeback Mountain set out to merely tell a good story, not change the world. It’s accomplished the first part and maybe, just maybe, it’ll spark discussion, debate, and lasting memories to lay groundwork for the second.

Nate’s Grade: A
%d bloggers like this: