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The Slaughter Rule
2002 - R - 112 Mins.
Director: Alex Smith, Andrew Smith
Producer: Michael Robinson, Gregory O\'Connor
Written By: Alex & Andrew Smith
Starring: Ryan Gosling, David Morse, Clea DuVall, Kelly Lynch, David Cale
Review by: Harrison Cheung
Official Site: www.theslaughterrule.com
   

Too close for comfort.
Starring Ryan Gosling (MURDER BY NUMBERS, THE BELIEVER) and David Morse (THE LANGOLIERS), this movie is a *must see* - it's a bittersweet drama about how lonely people deal with loss, loneliness and vulnerability.

The writers/directors of THE SLAUGHTER RULE are Andrew and Alex Smith - two twin brothers from Montana who workshopped this script at Sundance. In fact, THE SLAUGHTER RULE was up for Sundance's Grand Jury Prize. The kernel of the script came from their own high school experiences when every boy snickered that their coach was rumored to be gay. Though they never found out if that was the case, the Smiths were haunted by the fact that they dismissed the coach that easily based on school rumor and innuendo.

Gosling plays Roy Chutney, an affable high school student in a small Montana town where there isn't much to do except drink, play football and go dancing at the local bar. In the beginning of the movie, he loses his father and is cut from the varsity football team. The combined losses hit him very hard but he is soon recruited to play 6-man football by a local never-do-well, Gid (Morse) who has his eye on Roy. The term "slaughter rule" is apparently a football term where a game is lost if the opponents are too far ahead in points.

This is a fascinating and touching film about small town life and about loneliness. We're asked to accept Gid for what he may or may not be - a lonely older gay man who's only joy in life is to coach football. We're also asked to accept Roy for what he is - a teenager with a world of problems and yet no one is cutting him any slack.

The star of this movie is Ryan Gosling. Ever since his breakthrough performance in last year's critically-acclaimed but little-seen Neo-Nazi drama, THE BELIEVER, critics have only had a chance to notice his talent in the flawed MURDER BY NUMBERS. In fact, Gosling and his co-star Michael Pitt were the only good things about the Sandra Bullock 'by-the-numbers' murder mystery.

One good way of judging a performance is to imagine if any other actor could play that role -or, how would the movie be different with someone else. In THE SLAUGHTER RULE, this is easily Gosling's best performance. Here he is, a high school student (say 17), who has to deal with his father's death, school traumas, an aloof mother, and an unsympathetic girlfriend (Clea Duvall) who takes potshots at his sexual performance and is anxious to get out of town.

His only 'father figure' is his coach who borders between being too close which in turns makes Roy worry about his own sexuality. It's an incredible emotional barrage but Gosling handles the part poignantly - as an angry teen, as a sensitive young man, and finally as someone who earns some maturity and wisdom.

David Morse, a familiar character actor, shines as Gideon, an older man with a melancholy past. His performance is a careful counterbalance to Gosling's confused and vulnerable young man. Gid is a man who has had a hard life but knows what he wants.

Two incredible and outstanding scenes in this movie (and there are many wonderful moments) - one is a line-crossing confrontation between Roy and Gid (I can say no more but everyone in the audience was hyperventilating with the tension in the air) - and the other is a smart bedroom scene between Roy and his girlfriend when he looks to reassure his masculinity but is instead taught a bracing lesson about intimacy.

Set in Montana, THE SLAUGHTER RULE also uses music to great effect - the sort of crooning that enhances the loneliness that big open spaces have. The soundtrack was composed by alt.country star, Jay Farrar. Cinematography is icy-crisp. Editing is a little rough in the beginning of the film, but overall THE SLAUGHTER RULE is a wonderful debut film for the Smith brothers and a powerful new additional to Ryan Gosling's successful transformation from child actor (MMC, Young Hercules) to a mature young actor. How good is Gosling? Last year, I went to vote for Jake Gyllenhaal at the IFP awards. I saw THE BELIEVER and voted for Gosling instead. He's that good!

THE SLAUGHTER RULE was unfortunately a small indie film release, but look for it in your art house theaters and on video. It's a wonderful experience you won't soon forget.
 
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

 
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