Review: Brokeback Mountain (2005)

I finally dug up that review that Peracchio and I did together for the Asbury Collegian. Now that Brokeback is back in the news, it seemed a perfect time to put it up. Not really, but this site desperately needs new content.

Peracchio: After much discussion and deliberation, I decided see “Brokeback Mountain,” despite its controversial subject matter. It has been nominated for seven Golden Globe Awards and will most likely be an Oscar contender. The film is a hot topic of debate, and it would be silly to simply ignore it. Christians should know about the movies they watch, or in this case, won’t watch. In the case of “Brokeback”, just one reviewer wouldn’t do it justice. Joining me this week is Ben Wyman, of the Los Angeles Film Studies Center and 10-4 Good Buddy fame.

One might argue that a review of a film as markedly controversial as “Brokeback Mountain” deserves a good deal of gravitas, but I intend to give it none. For all the hype and fervor surrounding the release of the film, “Brokeback” is neither groundbreaking nor moving. Instead, it’s just sort of boring.

Peracchio: One of the dullest parts of the entire feature was the love story. I realize how incredibly difficult it was for director Ang Lee to portray a romantic relationship between two homosexual males without being cliché, but at the same time, there are certain elements required to successfully portray romance. Watch any romantic comedy involving Kate Hudson, and you’ll see what I mean.

As an audience, we come to expect the obvious. We should be able to tell right away when to expect the big moments and feel the buildup to it. Lee downplayed it all so much to avoid the clichés that when the tension between Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) came to a head, it was sudden, and practically laughable.

Wyman: Moderately more interesting are the dynamics of Ennis and Jack’s marriages. As the characters leave Brokeback Mountain and go on with their lives, their once vaguely promising futures begin to fall into disarray. Ennis marries longtime sweetheart Alma (Michelle Williams), and spends the next few years of his life struggling to make ends meet as a ranch hand. Jack rejoins the rodeo circuit and falls in with a vivacious show rider (Anne Hathaway), who lands him a job selling farm equipment from her wealthy father. The two settle into the doldrums of everyday life, while the viewer settles into the doldrums of slow, ponderous filmmaking.

The film finally sparks when Jack returns to Wyoming, four years later, to reunite with Ennis. As Jack pulls into the driveway, Alma looks out the door to see Ennis pull Jack into a forceful kiss. Shattered, she turns away and pretends not to have noticed. Jack and Ennis begin to steal away a few times a year, retreating to Brokeback Mountain together on fishing trips, their only relief from their discontented marriages.
Unable to break away from each other but scared to freely admit it to the world, Jack and Ennis spend the next twenty years in an awkward compromise between the lives they want to leave and the lives they feel they ought to lead. It’s the most honest and moving portion of the film, but Lee stretches it too long, and the viewer runs out of patience with the sparse story before “Brokeback” finally draws to a close.

Peracchio: Critics love to tout “Brokeback” as some sort of a groundbreaking feature, and in some ways, it is. It’s one of the first films to depict a truly masculine romance, as opposed to making it a two-and-a-half hour episode of “Will and Grace”. Ledger really shines in his role, showing us a love that’s hardly physical, and much more pure, like he’s a straight guy that just happened to fall for a man. He knows that it’s wrong and he’s terrified of what people think of him, yet he can’t seem to separate himself from them.
But even then, all I saw here was a western “American Beauty” with much heavier homosexual overtones. What made “Beauty” so poignant was that it hit close to home for viewers. It took familiar white suburbia and twisted it, showing the darkness that lurks just beyond a whitewashed exterior, and that anyone can fall into a similar situation himself.
“Brokeback” is much harder to relate to. At times, it’s preachy, looking down on the American west and admonishing it for its bigotry. Subtract that, as well as a boorish love story, and we’re left with two men, and what their relationship does to the world around them. There’s plenty more to debate about, but neither of us wants to spoil the film for anyone who wants to see it.
Do I recommend “Brokeback”? Hardly. From an artistic standpoint, it’s an excellent film. However, from a more important Christian standpoint, I can’t fully support it. For every diamond in “Brokeback,” there’s an overwhelming amount of rough.

Wyman: Agreed. “Brokeback” is artistic without being entertaining, and falls into the greatest of independent-film quarries: raising issues but not provoking thought. It’s a film so convinced of its own importance it forgets that the audience has a right to more than just the drama of homosexual angst. An audience wants to love its characters, to care what happens to them, to believe in the story.
“Brokeback” is almost clinical in its chronicling of the love story, it’s a science experiment of a film. It puts two male lovers on the screen, and rather than trying to get you to experience their story, it’s content for you to merely respect the excellence of the filmmaking. And while Lee’s direction on the film is solid, and the performance of the actors uniformly fantastic, it remains fact without passion.

Peracchio: That pretty well sums it up. This would be the part of the review where I’d rate the movie, but since I recommend against seeing it on moral grounds, the rating refers solely to the quality of the filmmaking. Out of four stars, I give “Brokeback Mountain” three.