RED STATE HATE 

When the critics fell all over themselves for Ang Lees Brokeback Mountain, some of us began to speculate that honest opinion, and by extension the courage to express it, was in danger of ceasing as required component in reviews. The praise has been so excessive, the rush to bestow honors so lacking of restraint that you wonder if the gay cabal in critics societies herniated while ejaculating all that congratulatory goo. (At IMDb, there are over 200 pages filled with more than 2,000 comments with “moving,” “haunting,” “beautiful,” “touching” and “masterpiece” countlessly repeated.) Just whats so groundbreaking about two men who discover theyre in love? Because theyre cowboys in straight jacket Wyoming? Perhaps the (embryonic) breakthrough is in what actor Jake Gyllenhaal said after being advised that he and Heath Ledger should read, to hone in on their parts, Will Fellows Farm Boys: Lives of Gay Men from the Upper Midwest: “I dont think that these two characters even know what gay is.” This is the core, the conundrum if you will, of the movie. It is being played as if the characters havent much of a self-recognition of homosexuality, and definitely no knowledge of a gay lifestyle. But theyre aware of the shame society scorns on those who are gay—they try to hide the sex they enjoy with each other. Observers of male sexuality have long thought that sex between men doesnt necessarily mean theyre gay exclusively—the current vernacular of otherwise straight men having sex with other men is “down low”—and, according to a newly published study, it happens more often and in numbers larger than previously thought. Simple to explain why: when circumstance provides opportunity, sex drives rev up. In Brokeback Mountain, a tent goes up and carnality soars and at first the annual interludes are without tentacles. (For a while its like a craggy “down low” remake of Same Time, Next Year.) Of course, no movie that uses Wyoming in 1963 will suggest laissez faire, thus we get the hackneyed self-discoveries, the imperative dramatic tensions and this soaper has too many of the latter bordering on the poisonously sinister, though sadly not inaccurate. (Its impossible not to flash on Matthew Shepards fate.) A few good moments: when Ledgers little girl accidentally bumps into a huge display of glass jars and when his wife observes him kissing Gyllenhaal. (However, the first is unnecessary, which may be why I liked its inclusion, the second probably false in its intensity given place and time.) The two leads are never embarrassing, and Ledger delivers the end with dignity. Famous for having his assistants assemble reams of info about the periods hes filming, Lee once more shows remarkable confidence in mimicking background gloss. As with The Ice Storm and Sense and Sensibility, there is no individual or identifying sense of Lee here, nor a prevailing sensibility; he makes movies that feel like fiats from a collective.

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