Notes from the back row 

Cowboys in love

In a time when American film seems determined to prove its Hell Yeah!-ness and a flood of macho, go-team military films are hitting the big screen ( Jarhead, Annapolis) I think it’s really funny that director Ang Lee has taken America’s greatest and most sacred symbols of manliness, the cowboy, and not only rammed him into a rollicking gay sex scene, but later shows him crying about it like a heartbroken little girl. Yee haw! The movie is Brokeback Mountain and it’s playing this week at the Village 8.

Based on the short story by Annie Proulx, Brokeback Mountain tells the tragic tale of Ennis Del Mar, a ranch hand played by Heath Ledger, and Jack Twist, a goofy rodeo cowboy brought to life by Jake Gyllenhall. During a summer of solitary sheepherding together the young men discover a deep love for each other, and consummate it one cold night in the mountains. Since it’s the 1960s in Wyoming, a time and place where being a gay cowboy will get you killed, Ennis and Jack must keep their love a secret and both end up marrying nice girls and starting families. The tragic lovers only see each other a few times a year, on fishing trips. The rest of the time the fellas mostly feel sorry for themselves and deal with the cramped and stifling apartments and lifestyles they’ve been forced to accept; a far cry from the open ranges and mountains so symbolic of their love.

Heath Ledger lays down a solid, Oscar-hyped, performance as the alpha male, all squinted eyes and repressed emotions. Considering he’s an Australian, he really sells the tough cowboy vocal inflections.

Gyllenhaal, as the more sensitive of the two, also turns in a solid performance. Good thing too as the film runs about half an hour too long and Ang Lee (fresh off a disappointment with The Hulk ) relies on them to keep the film alive. The fishing trip scenes are mainly fun and sexual, with most of the gritty emotions saved for the final act. Basically, the actors save the picture.

It’s a sad and depressing film really. On the surface it’s a blatant gay cowboy movie and the audacity of that alone totally rules. But dig a bit deeper and it’s just another sorrow-filled love story about not getting what you want and wasting your life settling for less. As Ledger says, "If you can’t fix it, you gotta stand it."

All in all it’s a touching and emotional saga that women and old people will really enjoy, and red-blooded men will find disconcerting. (Apparently, in Texas, gay marriage has just been outlawed for the second time and I heard they’re refusing to screen this movie in the state of Utah.)

If you’re into gay-themed westerns check out how the cowboys admire each other’s guns in Howard Hawkes’s Red River and the obvious lesbo themes in Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar , which is one of the best westerns of all time.

And if you’re believing the hype about the new Eli Roth/Tarantino picture Hostel (apparently so gory that people are passing out in the theatres) don’t bother driving to the city for it. Mostly it’s an adolescent male fantasy full of annoying American college kid characters that dips in into ultra-gore to save itself, and fails. Gore and blood rule, but to make an actual movie you need likeable characters to back it up.

AT VILLAGE 8 Jan. 13-19: Brokeback Mountain; Last Holiday; Munich; Casanova; King Kong; Memoirs of a Geisha; Fun With Dick and Jane; Chronicles of Narnia.

AT RAINBOW THEATRE Jan. 13-19: 40 Year Old Virgin.

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