Broke my usual pledge to avoid popular movies last night and attended Brokeback Mountain. It is a pretty darned good movie, beautifully made, well-acted, thought-provoking, debate-stirring, and so on--but above all, artistic.

The austere ranch scenery, houses, trailer homes, bars and restaurants memorably rendered. If you love the mountain west--and not just the scenery, but the culture--you'll like the movie. If you like beautiful camera work, this movie has two hours of it.

I dread most movies which are at all serious because they can be so emotionally abusive, deliberately trying to make you weep, or change your social position, or carry a banner, or whatever. No such histrionics or pedantics with Brokeback. It is a subjective, artistic depiction--trying to be true rather than trying to convince. Whether it succeeds or not, each viewer has to decide.

I dread movies where I have heard ahead of time that one of the heroes dies. I don't want to endure the moment when the brains spatter on the wall. Hollywood just can't seem to handle a death without slapping you with it, rubbing your face in it, galling you with it. Brokeback was gentle and classy about it. I was relieved and thankful, although the fist fights did cause me to have a night-full of dreams of people bashing each other over the head.

It was a sorrowful movie more than a sad movie. I say that assuming that sorrow has in it a mix of richness that mere sadness does not. There are many rich, but sorrowful moments in Brokeback. The whole film has a haunted quality to it from beginning to end. It moved slowly without ever getting tedious.

There were weak points: The first twenty minutes of the movie just don't fit. The character played by actor Dennis Quaid wasn't realistic. He came across as an actor playing a tough, angry man without knowing what it really felt like to be a tough, angry man. Odd, since Dennis Quaid, of all people, looks like he should know what it is like to be a tough, angry man.

There were surprising lapses at other points in the film--things which didn't feel right, such as when Ennis has a loud, violent argument with his ex-wife in his ex-wife's kitchen while his ex-wife's wimpy new husband just sits in the living room, reads the newspaper and smokes. Not likely.

But overall, it is just a beautiful film, one which would sustain another viewing.