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One episode of South Park once proclaimed that all independent movies are about gay cowboys eating pudding. Ang Lee apparently took that to heart, changed pudding to beans, and made Brokeback Mountain, the most buzzed-about movie of the year.
Brokeback Mountain is a movie about two pretty cowboys who get drunk on whiskey and then have violent buttsex without so much as five seconds of foreplay. The film then tells us that this is true love and spends the next two hours convincing us of that.
The mighty words of Flavor Flav could never be more fitting than they are with this movie: don't believe the hype. Now, before you get the wrong impression, let me first state that Brokeback Mountain is a really, really good movie. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and it will surely wind up high on my best-of-the-year list. The hype I'm referring to is the notion that this film makes some great political statement about the plight of gay Americans in today's society. It doesn't, and it isn't meant to. The fact that it has been co-opted by certain special interest groups as a badge for them to wear on their sleeves is no more than good timing on their part.
Dubbed everything from That Gay Cowboy Movie to Bareback Mountain (or as I like to call it, My Own Private Wyoming,) Brokeback sure has ruffled a lot of feathers in certain subsets of society, but it really shouldn't. The film has no agenda. It's just a story about two dudes who share a passion for one another. It's a good story, too, which delves in to both men trying to live their lives like "normal" folks do. Their characters are conflicted -- Heath Ledger's Ennis feels the need to cover up his love for Jake Gyllenhaal's Jack, but Jack dreams of moving in together and running a ranch. Ennis draws his fears from a childhood memory of a man being beaten to death for being suspected of having the same type of relationship that he and Jack have. Meanwhile, Jack's not quite as timid about pursuing his lifestyle, going so far as to travel down to Mexico for an encounter with a male prostitute.
Heath Ledger delivers the film's best performance, talking like he's had the same piece of chewing tobacco stuck in his cheek for the past 20 years. Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway both deliver powerful supporting performances, and Linda Cardellini has an underrated, albeit small, performance as Ennis's later-life gal-pal. Randy Quaid shows up for his second-best cameo appearance this season. Jake Gyllenhall is also in this movie, but he doesn't really show any more promise than he did in Bubble Boy.
The film is shot beautifully, and it's easy to see why the two ranchhands were able to find so much love on top of the the titular peak. Beautiful backdrops of mountaintops, desert wastelands, and rolling plains prop up our players as they make their way through 20 years worth of their lives. The pace is deliberately slow, and while the movie feels long, it never feels like it's unnecessarily so.
If there's anything I can say to the negative about Brokeback, it's the poor job in which the characters were aged. Ledger still looks like a 25-year old playing a 40-year old by the movie's end, and while they did a slightly better job in aging Gyllenhall (primarily by adding a mustache,) it's still pretty weird seeing Ennis hanging out with a daughter that looks his age.
Other than that, Brokeback Mountain is a gem. It's a fantastic film that really should appeal to anyone, not just a niche market. In other words, it's far more than just a gay cowboy movie, it's a great love story.
For the crowd that doesn't want to see this movie because they are so absolutely put off at the thought of two men having sex, it's time to rest easy. Not only is there only one sex scene in the movie between Ledger and Gyllenhaal's characters, there's also far more heterosexual sex. And straight guys should have an extra incentive to see this movie: the opportunity to see Jenn from Dawson's Creek and Disney's princess herself topless.
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