THE SLAUGHTER RULE

R
Reviews

One grim fairy tale, The Slaughter Rule, set in snowy, bleak Montana, is the twisted tale of the murky relationship between "normal" high schooler Roy Chutney (Ryan Gosling) and his gay football coach, Gideon (David Morse). Roy plays on Gideon's six-man team, which operates under the titular "slaughter rule," in which a game can be ended early when one team has a large and presumably insurmountable lead over the other. Gideon is a big ole macho mess, screaming game plans at his players and then sneaking peeks at their weenies in the shower, when he's not actually lunging at them. There's even talk about some kid's unnecessary death in the coach's shadowy past. The whole town whispers and snickers about him, and even try to warn Roy away from him, but the kid is inexorably drawn in. (It's like that family in Poltergeist. You just want to scream, "Walk away, already!")

Gideon crosses the line, however, when he puts the moves on Roy. Deflected, Gideon cries, "'I'm not a man who wants other men. I just enjoy being around them. It's all I've ever known.' The tale gets progressively darker, with the death of Gideon's diabetic only friend (David Cale), Roy being thrown into jail, and his best buddy, Two Dogs (Eddie Spears), in the hospital after a football pileup. Even Roy's girl Skyla (Clea DuVall) decides he is too young for her, and up and splits for Seattle.

First-time filmmakers Andrew and Alex Smith have a potentially intriguing and very different tale, but they consistently shoot themselves in the foot with their amateurishly self-conscious direction. The plot should unfold simply, naturalistically, for full effect, but the film is awash with wobbly hand-held shots, slo-mo effects, and intrusive cutting, which always seems to be anticipating the actors' moves. The football games themselves have zero excitement or momentum due to this ham-handed technique. They go by in an arty, lap-dissolved muddle and add nothing to the film. It's really a shame, because the Smiths have assembled a worthy cast, whose potentially wonderful performances are stymied by their overeager, too-busy directors.

Morse gives a powerfully complex, unpredictable portrayal as a type of mixed-up guy not all that uncommon in smalltown hinterlands. Many of Gideon's actions are reprehensible, but the discernible pain in his eyes makes it impossible to completely despise him. Gosling, like a younger Matthew McConaughey, oozes beautiful, young, wounded animal sensitivity in the manner patented by James Dean. DuVall, as always, comes across as a tougher, more mordant Claire Danes. Silky-maned Spears brings his considerable Native American beauty to his character, as well as an appealing, jocular flavor. Kelly Lynch, however, seems far too young to be playing Roy's inattentive mom.

--David Noh