Thursday, May 31, 2007

Brokeback Munich

To say "Brokeback Mountain" is a “gay cowboy movie” is akin to calling “Romeo and Juliet” a play about two feuding Italian families. In either case you wouldn’t be wrong, but to reduce the two stories to such superficial plot summaries misses the essence of both – the universal theme of societal constructions (be they ideas about class, race or sexuality) serving to keep true love apart. Ang Lee’s disguised “Romeo and Juliet,” set in the west and involving two men, is merely the latest take on a timeless subject. It is a classic western that feels so right in its elimination of the extraneous girl at the center of the requisite triangle, the undeveloped female character put there for no other reason than to keep the other two points from collapsing into (the arms of) each other. Blessed with a tight script and phenomenal acting, Ang Lee rightly steps aside, letting the film perform its own alchemy, leaving no smudges of auteur fingerprints to distract like a dirty lens. Heath Ledger lives up to his hype, imbuing his complex role with a gravity that’s worthy of the young Brando.

A man with a lightweight soul, Steven Spielberg is also a lazy, manipulative showman who creates films for the simpleminded. With his latest “Munich” he takes the predictable, easy way out from scene to scene, force-feeding the audience emotion like overpriced popcorn. I left the theater feeling just as nutritionally deprived. The setup in which the protagonist has a flashback to the Munich murders (though he was never there in the first place – huh?) while fucking his wife boiled my blood with its film-school student pretension (behold how deep I can be!). A master filmmaker like Roman Polanski at least would have had the guts to blow up the little girl who’d gotten in the way of her father’s assassination – test audiences be damned! Steven Spielberg couldn’t even muster the gumption to cut (co-writer) Tony Kushner’s overlong script, so in love was he with the possibility of putting more of his superficial auteur smudges on the screen.

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