Director Ang Lee speaks with actors Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal
It is easy to predict Brokeback may win at least one Academy Award, but in the scheme of Hollywood filmmaking -- this film fails fundamentally to deliver on what is truly necessary to earn longevity with audiences and accolades from the industry.
This film critic, also a professional screenwriter, is not involved in voting for the awards; however, this writer has his suspicions why such a film would be favored with award judges in year 2006: It is a unique film; outside of Hollywood circles gay is not okay; the United States is banning gay marriage state by state; and society in general does not openly discuss male sexuality -- leaving all of its brut ugliness open for debate.
Consider Lee's awards then -- Hollywood's version of thumbing their noses at society.
Politics aside, Brokeback Mountain will not be revered as a great film in 30 years; Babette's Feast, Now Voyager, even Gone with the Wind will remain three-of-dozens of truly great films for following formula.
Overall Brokeback Mountain is "interesting," but not a film that sticks with you as the credits roll. Gyllenhaal, Ledger, and costars Anne Hathaway and Michelle Williams do not have the charisma nor the talent of bygone actors from Hollywood's golden era...they are cute, pretty, and handsome, but they did not stretch their craft as far as they could or should have -- that is the fault of Lee.
This is key: The "potential" for Brokeback Mountain to have been an incredible film did exist from its taboo theme set against a natural landscape --beautiful to see on screen-- but that is cinematography, not good writing.
First, the screenwriters fail to create enough tension between Ledger and Gyllenhaal characters (Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist.) The two men were not in love. They were...horny perhaps, maybe a bit lonely, but: Love? Nada.
Director Ang Lee and actor Heath Ledger smile for photo opportunity.
Second, from the standpoint of screenwriting (written by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana) Brokeback Mountain missed a golden opportunity for Jack and Ennis to communicate and build a male bond, which is normal during isolating experiences.
The actors did not speak to their personal misgivings pre-tent scene, they did not share their backgrounds, past mistakes, or fears. Spending face time with drink in hand does not build tension without communication or conflict.
Brokeback Mountain would have launched a successful punch from the start had the characters truly bonded with each other and the audience. There was no reason to like or associate with either Jack or Ennis. They lacked the intimacy friends naturally develop, which made the tent scene fumble even less believable, because friends do not act in rapishesque aggression.
Had the communication bridge been well thought by the screenwriters, the first intimate contact between Jack and Ennis would have been nonsexual; falling asleep in each other's arms, the art of light touch and even a boyish crush, to which both men would have been comfortable being together when the proper time arrived.
Aggression from the tent flashes forward to a fistfight between Jack and Ennis upon their imminent departure from the mountain: Makes sense under any circumstance...love or no love. They are young, they are scared, and they are not clear what the relationship meant, of course neither do we.
Years later, when Jack and Ennis reunite for the first time, the screenwriters and director Lee take us to "unbelievable" action between the men. In full view of Ennis' home and wife (played by Williams) the men greet each other as long-lost lovers with a passionate kiss (remember, this was still in the 1960s, such action is even doubtful in public display circa 2006.) Desire to act out in kind, without acting upon, would build tension -- which at this point in the film was desperately in need to move it forward.
Williams plays Ennis' wife, Alma Del Mar, well. One can sympathize with how she felt, as a mother of two, knowing that her husband was not only fooling around, but fooling around with a man. How could she possibly compete with the opposite sex? This tension builds, but writers and director drop the ball without developing additional external tension until Brokeback Mountain's ending.
Hathaway, who plays Lureen Newsome Twist, Jack's wife, starts her role as Jack's girlfriend, but as the movie wears on past the marriage so does she as a "look the other way Southern Belle." Lureen adds nothing to the film except to introduce her good-ole-boy father.
The screenwriters also missed an opportunity to show how the love between Jack and Ennis was deep enough to last past annual tent scenes on Brokeback Mountain.
Jack was clearly sleeping with other men from time to time...and such an action is not what two of any kind would do under the spell of true love.
Had Jack attempted to engage with another man, but simply failed because of his love for Ennis, we the audience see how that works. Without the emotional attachment, Jack is hanging out as a sex addict preying on men. We see Jack change (only) once -- when he stands-up to his father-in-law. But that too is short lived, and the screenwriters and director miss developing this opportunity.
Director Ang Lee coaches actor Jake Gyllenhaal on set of Brokeback Mountain.
With Jack's departure, the sequence between Lureen and Ennis via telephone misses clarity. Lureen...absent. What did she know? We, the audience should not have to ask.
Fourth: Who had the flashback? That question is not answered by creative license. It should be clear. If the flashback of Jack's beating was from Ennis' point of view, then we know that Jack's death was created by Ennis. If the flashback was Lureen's, that means she was present at the murder scene, which leaves you wondering...huh?
The sequence at Jack's parent's home was solid. Ennis is uncomfortable. So are the parents. The bedroom scene with Ennis caressing Jack's belongs and finding the Brokeback Mountain shirts was touching -- in fact the only touching scene in a film, which should have had dozens more.
Who carried out Jack's final wishes? In a good film...you should not need to ask.
Ennis never comes to terms with the relationship, and thus he never had closure. Ennis never changed, which is not an ingredient for a good film.
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