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IN SHORT: Ten seconds less and this could have been the best film of the year, but, yeah, it's a gay cowboy love story. [Rated R for sexuality, nudity, language and some violence. 134 minutes]
More to the point: We don't particularly care what gay men discover and then do in the privacy of their own tent (in this case). We sure don't need any big screen graphic imagery sticking to our brain for ninety more minutes. Cranky thinks y'all are intelligent enough to understand a look, a lunge and a quick cutaway to get the point. The material involved can't be more than about five or ten seconds and, sorry to the studio folks, that's five or ten seconds too much. If we're wrong, then Brokeback Mountain will make a fortune and take every statue available.
We're sure that Leonard Maltin could put a hard number to the question of how many heterosexual 'first summer love affects a lifetime relationship' movies there have been. We can't think of a single mainstream A-list production to work the other side of the street, so here we go. Other critics we know were already calling Brokeback Mountain the 'gay cowboy' movie. We ignored their comments just as easily as we ignore the Source Material. For those who don't want to spend hours hunting down our comments on any other movie with gay characters -- trying to figure out where we stand -- we stand here: We're straight. We've seen more gay friends die than we care to think about. We didn't particularly care then or now what any one of 'em did behind closed doors. We don't really need to see actors getting physical, either, but that can be dealt with as needed if the characters are interesting and their story compelling.
That's a big "if". The bigger "if" comes down to the simple observation "Do we (the audience) care about the characters? Is there chemistry between the characters?" Neither man speaks or behaves or shows much personality before the Big Event and nothing in the script gives us much of a clue, which is probably "the point." As to the question of chemistry between the two men. . . How the heck would we know?
Two very young men spend the summer of 1961 with a summer job herding Joe Aguirre's (Randy Quaid) sheep on Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming. Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) is a local boy. Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) is up from Texas. There isn't much to do on that mountain. One watches Aguirre's flock in the daytime, ensuring that one herd doesn't mix with another. One watches for coyotes at night and shoots to kill any seen. When they get truly bored one very cold evening, knowing that there is no one to check up on them, they share the tent. And each other, stripping each other naked and going at it like bunnies for as long as the MPAA allows an esteemed filmmaker like Ang Lee to get away with and keep an 'R' rating. Aguirre will fire the pair as soon as he catches them sorta kinda in the act.
Years down the line, Del Mar is married to Alma (Michelle Williams) with kids and barely making ends meet. Twist has married Lureen (Anne Hathaway), daughter of a family made wealthy by the sale of farm equipment. He has a tyke of his own and a father in law that would pay big bucks to get the marriage ended. But still, the men will always share that memory of 1961. They will steal a week or two here or there to "go fishing," which is what they tell the wives, and keep the passion alive. Thankfully, that rest of that passion stays off screen, where it belongs. Sooner or later, their secret will be found out.
Again, we don't particularly care what two men do in the sack. We don't need to see it to get the point -- and the point of this film is how that first love overwhelms all the (heterosexual) mating that follows. All we know is that, sitting in the middle of a screening room packed with a lot of gay men (we're going by the tone of conversation that went flipping back and forth in the screening room) we should have seen some reaction when this film hit its big emotional point in the Third Act -- all we'll say is that it has nothing to do with AIDS. Nope. Unless, of course, all were stunned emotionally senseless. Then we would have expected to have heard something. A sniffle, or a gasp or (since we don't want to spill the ending) hysterical laughter. Something. Nope, nothing.
That's all that we need to say.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Brokeback Mountain, he would have paid . . .
. . . well, we wouldn't have. We don't understand gay love and the reaction of the others in our audience speaks for itself. The astounding stupidity of leaving in a couple of seconds of graphic imagery that interferes with everything that follows is beyond us. A studio rep told us that "this is the film we wanted to release." That may be so but those couple of seconds seriously gets in the way of a very serious and seriously well written second half. Reread the first paragraph.
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