Brokeback Mountain: A Retread With Bad Accents and Too Much Camera
I can't write a full review of Brokeback Mountain less than twenty-four hours before my bankruptcy exam. Given that most of my blogroll has mentioned it, however, I'd like to pause to make a few brief points and hope I can come back to it later.
- More than anything else, I urge those who liked Brokeback to see The Wedding Banquet. Same director, same issues, but less preachy and a much better film.
- The review that is closest (though not all that close) to my view comes from Jeremy Reff at Crescat, at least with regards to the cinematography. ("has there ever been a less chromatic use of color?" "...just a profitable pretension.") The frequent moniker "gay cowboy movie" is misleading in the extreme: almost all of the scenes worth watching occur indoors. Brokeback Mountain is a good 90-minute love story spread out over 134 minutes of insufferable attempts at arthouse scenery.
- The storyline is emotionally affecting, of course, but the story (originally from the New Yorker, and available here via Google cache) takes less time to read and is generally better executed. If you want to chat at the watercooler without having to stare at the screen for a couple of hours, just do your reading and imagine an Australian hunk as an improbable stand-in for the lead character.
- Said hunk brings me to the real suspension of disbelief problem. Heath Ledger has been in some good films and some real stinkers, but why does he keep getting cast in such unsuitable roles? OK, the slow-speaking shepherd Ennis Del Mar has few lines, and Ledger's got the perfect "stare into space like you're ignoring an unpleasant smell in an elevator" gaze for long, drawn-out shots of emotional angst. But I couldn't buy the accent. Every time he opened his mouth, there emerged the subtle annoying echo of Home and Away. I wonder if Brits watching A Knight's Tale had the same creepy feeling?
- Finally, you might want to wait for video if you live in New York. I'll admit that my opinion of the movie might be unfavorably colored by the fact that I saw it in a packed Chelsea cinema, and I brought with me my own peculiar curse.
After over a dozen outings, I have yet to take a trip to a theater in New York that hasn't featured a couple in the row behind me giving their own color commentary in the manner of a lobotomized Siskel & Ebert. There are films for which this is acceptable, of course. Rarely can back-seat narration do anything but improve such absolute divel as Highlander 2. But when Mr. Ledger delivers the relatively poignant line, "You know I ain't queer," it doesn't help to have some overenthusiastic nitwit behind you loudly adding, "Yeah, right."
Bottom line: the film is worth seeing, but don't believe the gushing of critics who want this film to be a masterpiece so that they can indict red-state America with homophobia when they don't turn out at the box office. (See Althouse on Frank Rich, who is now behind Times Select's Wall of Irrelevance.) Designed to create the perfect media storm, it's closer in quality to The Hulk than Crouching Tiger. If you want to see Ang Lee handle issues regarding tradition and homosexual relationships with more skill and aplomb (and considerably more ethical complexity), you'd be better off renting The Wedding Banquet. Lee did much better than Brokeback a decade ago.
[Actually, I should admit that the first version of this review was considerably more positive, and only changed after I remembered that Ang Lee was behind The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman. Maybe it's unfair to judge the film by Lee's prior work rather than on its own merits. Nevertheless, I remember walking out of the Ultimate Picture Palace in my undergraduate days, my chest bursting and my throat sore with laughter after watching The Wedding Banquet. By comparison, Brokeback just seems a trite and expected Hollywood vision, politically-correct pablum.]
: Yes, Siskel's dead. I'm of the age where it will always be Siskel & Ebert, no matter who else is in the balcony. I liked Siskel, and firmly believe that even from beyond the grave he could do a better job than the morons who end up sitting behind me. (As an added plus, Ouija boards aren't that disturbing during a feature film.)