The Slaughter Rule

2003, Movie, R, 112 mins


Twin brothers Andrew and Alex Smith make an impressive directorial debut with this taut psychological drama about a Montana teenager coming to terms with his own ideas about masculinity. Not long after learning that the father he barely knew has been killed by a passing freight train, Roy Chutney (Ryan Gosling), who plays high-school football in the tiny, rural town of Blue Springs, Mont., gets another dose of bad news. Due to budget cuts, there won't be a junior varsity team this year, and Roy's coach (Cody Harvey) feels Roy isn't "hard" enough to play varsity. Cut from the team and in need of a father figure, Roy is approached by a stranger who appears to offer a substitute for both. Grubby, middle-aged newspaper vendor Gideon Ferguson (David Morse) has had his eye on Roy for quite some time; Gideon once coached football and is trying to pull together a team of "ranch boys" like Roy to play six-man football — a leaner, meaner version of what they're playing over at the high school. Gideon flatters Roy by telling him he's a better ball player than his late father ever was, and Roy soon finds himself back on the field, playing football against other hard-luck teams and loving every minute of it. Roy recruits his best friend, Tracy Two Dogs (Eddie Spears), and even gets himself a girlfriend, Skyla (Clea Duvall), who serves drinks at the C&W bar where Gideon sometimes sings. Gideon at first seems to be a godsend, offering Roy not just paternal guidance but another chance to prove his manhood on the field. But something about Gideon makes Roy uncomfortable; the guys on the varsity team say he's gay, and there are rumors about some trouble Gideon got into up in Hysham, where a boy died. Roy begins to suspect that Gideon's using him to fill a hole in his own life — a hole left by something Gideon also loved and lost. The Smiths use an actual incident from their shared past to explore sensitively the way in which mercy and compassion are often the first things lost on the road to manhood, and make powerful use of the stark Montana landscape as a hard, frozen place littered with wrecked lives. But the film's real strength lies in two excellent performances, from veteran Morse and up-and-comer Gosling, whose extraordinary turn in THE BELIEVER (2001) established the former Mouseketeer as an important young actor. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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