2.27.2006

Brokeback Mountain Crash

So I went to see Brokeback Mountain yesterday afternoon (when I should have been working on the house, yes, what of it?!), and I'm here to give my review of what is admittedly a good movie, but one which I don't think should win an Academy Award over Crash.


First and foremost, I'm tired of the hype that Brokeback is this sweeping, inspirational, epic love story. While it's true that Messrs. Twist and Delmar are obsessed with one another, to one degree or other, for a nearly twenty year span, I'm not sure that their "love story" is so great. For one thing (stop reading if you haven't seen the movie and intend to), their story has a tragic ending that is all too easy to interpret -- in my opinion -- as a sort of retributive justice toward Jack. He dies, his wife tells Ennis, while changing a tire that explodes, causing the tire rim to break his nose and jaw, drowning him in his own blood before help arrives the next morning (Ennis's flashback to the beaten-to-death-with-a-tire-iron neighbor of his childhood is just gruesome, although I understood why the vignette was inserted in his mind's eye).

But we've learned, meanwhile, that while Ennis stays faithful to Jack, with the exception of a wife and a girlfriend (both presumably necessary beards in the teensy town in which he lives), Jack not only has a relationship with a ranch foreman neighbor of his in Texas (with whom he doubly betrays Ennis by making plans to move to his parents' ranch and set up housekeeping, an offer previously made to Ennis), but also crosses the border and avails himself of the services of Mexican rent boys. He explains himself by telling Ennis that he's "not like" him, and can't help himself, can't deny himself, can't stand their separations, etc....and comes to a bad end. If that's not meant to be some sort of morality play, I'll be gosh-darned, because it's Jack who suffers and dies at 39. (Granted, Ennis suffers after Jack's death, but his suffering is alleviated by his good relationship with his daughters and his memory of Jack's love for him.)

Second, although the story in Brokeback is a moving one, it's not transformative. It didn't make me question my values or beliefs or challenge me; understandably, this could be because I don't think there's anything novel or weird about "the gays" being in love or being obsessed with each other or having a long relationship frought with conflict and obstacles, but still, there you have it. It was just a good, well-told, well-acted story, but it didn't knock me out.

Crash, on the other hand, was fantastic, and every single actor in it was on their game and living the action. It made me think about what our secret prejudices are, and how we express them or just hold them latent within ourselves, not knowing when and how they'll be manifest, and it was revelatory in terms of how we let go of our biases, and what happens to us when we do. In a cast of first-rate actors including Don Cheadle, Ryan Philippe, Terrence Howard, Thandie Newton, Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon was simply fantastic, as a jaded, surly, weary LA cop whose meanness and bigotry give way to pain and compassion, in a truly transformative performance. I was riveted by Crash, and I think it's the best movie of 2005, and it kinda pisses me off that Brokeback is a shoo-in to win Best Picture Oscar, because it simply was not the best picture. I believe that the Academy's votes will go to Brokeback so people will know how "committed" artists are to "the gays" and good moviemaking and good story-telling and great acting be damned.

What I'd rather see, and I hope to see soon, is a truly great movie* that featured a happy ending to a gay love story win an Oscar, and play in 3000 theaters across the country, and not garner any particular notice because the main characters are gay than it would if they had freckles or curly hair. I was heartened by the ensemble win for Crash at the SAG awards, and the Bafta for Thandie Newton, but I'm not holding my breath for an Oscar upset.

* Note, interestingly, that Ang Lee's Eat Drink Man Woman is, in fact, just such a story, and was nominated for best Foreign Language Oscar in 1995, although it didn't win.

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