Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Film Decade List #9: Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, USA, 2005)

Through all the attention and jokes it has gotten since its release, Brokeback Mountain is a film that has the grace and emotional power of any love story, let alone one about two cowboys. Ang Lee's film toys with a lot of conventions of the Western or cowboy movies but the film is not a Western. It has elements of melodrama in it but never feels saccharine or watered down. The film seems not so concerned in its characters' sexual orientation as it does showing the obstacles they had to face. It all essentially boils down to the performances of Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as well as Ang Lee's direction. Ledger is exceptional in his role as the more closed-off of the two. It's the type of slow burn performance that gets more noticeable in its effectiveness the more it's seen. Gyllehaal's character, while not in the same performance level, is needed to act as a sort of counterbalance to Ledger's character. These characters could easily have been caricatures but come across as prototypical movie cowboys that evolve into something other than to be expected by Hollywood archetypes. Still, it might not have worked with Lee's direction, taking the vast landscape shots that can be found in Westerns and making them somehow feel intimate and unique. He lets the camera linger on the image in the first hour of the film and that's really important for establishing a tone that allows the relationship to emerge out of this landscape. Lee treats the material with a seriousness, knowing that the true nature of love isn't any different for these characters as it would be for a man and a woman in a similar situation. It's an expertly crafted film without an auteur quality that still has a commanding presence.

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