Director: Ang Lee
Verdict: Worth your time, if flawed.
Well if there isn’t a more diverse director than Ang Lee, maybe the only director who’s films vary more would be Richard Linklater, (A Scanner Darkly, Boyhood, Dazed and Confused, School of Rock) or the late great Stanley Kubrick, (The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Full Metal Jacket). After the overblown, over serious mess of Hulk, Ang Lee has a go at another incredibly serious and incredibly worthy effort in Brokeback Mountain, just on a much lower budget. This time instead of subverting the action comic book movie Ang Lee has a go at subverting the equally serious and bravado filled genre of the western. Y’know I want Ang Lee to go off and make a stoner comedy. See how he likes that.
Based on the eponymous short story by Annie Proulx, Brokeback Mountain follows the forbidden love of two gay cowboys and how they have to suppress their love in order to live. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal, (Donnie Darko, Nightcrawler, Zodiac) and Heath Leger, (The Dark Knight, 10 Things I Hate About You) as the gay cowboys amid a fine supporting cast that includes Anne Hathaway, Kate Mara, and David Harbour. It was actually quite entertaining to see people who have since gone on to bigger and better roles and think ‘oh that went on to do that thing, like House of Cards, Stranger Things, and um… Fantastic Four‘.
The real star of this film though is Ang Lee. His auterial fingers are all over this one. It’s got the same trade mark sort of natural beauty and landscape poetry that we saw in things like Life of Pi and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and it’s got the kind of worthy, sedentary pace we’ve come to expect from him, as well as the sort of outsider’s eye to american genres that he’s shown in other works. Aside from that it’s clearly a very technically minded and stylish film, and technically it is very well made. Ang Lee wanted to show off and he did, but in a way that’s also the problem. There is a degree of detachment to this film that stops you getting really emotionally involved. Watching it, I feel one removed from what’s happening on screen in front of me. Now, to take a film like Drive, that’s a film with a plot that wouldn’t necessarily have you emotionally involved, but the high professionals sheen and style serves to get you involved. Whereas I feel in this film the high style of it only served to detach me from a story that I would otherwise naturally be emotionally involved in. It is a very involving story, and I did feel for the characters, (Heath Leger in the leading role truly shines in a very understated performance, died too young), but at the same time I felt like an outsider looking in, very much like Ang Lee himself is, instead of being truly into the story. There’s something about how wiggy is is, something about the performances in some roles that doesn’t quite gel. I would have preferred Ang Lee to focus on the essentials that convince you of the world instead of how to capture a nice shot, or the hair and make up for the period setting.
I feel like now I need to talk about Jake Gyllenhaal. His has this underlying creepiness, this sort of gaunt visage that he played perfectly in Nightcrawler, but here, he’s kind of miscast as the live wire romantic of the couple. He comes across as disingenuous and his liveliness is honestly more irritating because he just doesn’t make it seem natural.
In the end Brokeback Mountain is a very solid film, but it lacks the emotional involvement to elevate it to something great.