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In Blue Springs, Montana, high school student Roy Chutney is beginning to lose his way in life largely the result of two simultaneous events. The first is that his father, Nelson Chutney, dies. Roy hadn't seen his father much since his parents divorced and his father remarried. Nelson was run over by a train, but Roy's mother, Evangeline Chutney, with who Roy has a somewhat emotionally distant relationship, believes he committed suicide. The second is that because funding to the school has reduced the football program to just a varsity team with no junior varsity, Roy, along with half the other players, is cut from the football squad, as his coach doesn't believe he is mentally tough enough despite he being a skilled player. The two incidents combined make the situation even worse for Roy as football was his primary connection to his father. Into Roy's life enters Gideon Ferguson, the local newspaper seller, who asks Roy to be part of his newly formed football team, which will play in... Written by
Despite the novelty of its setting, 'The Slaughter Rule' is a fairly conventional coming-of-age tale about a boy who grows into manhood by becoming a member of a ragtag six-man football team. Roy is a teenager trapped in a small Montana town whose life has not been going any too well of late. His father, with whom he had only the most casual of relationships, has been discovered dead on a railroad track, a possible suicide victim. His mother, embittered by their divorce, sleeps around with countless men and has no real inclination to provide her son with any but the most cursory form of maternal affection. On top of all this, Roy has just been rejected for the school's varsity football team because the coach finds him lacking in the kind of 'anger' he feels a player needs to be a success on the gridiron. When Roy is asked by Gid, a somewhat eccentric older man in the town, to come join his six-man football team, the youth only reluctantly acquiesces (six-man football is a near rule-less poor relation to the real game, one ostensibly only played by farm boys). It is at this point that Roy's growth into manhood begins, since it turns out that the enigmatic Gid, who one assumes will be merely a father figure for the affection-starved youth, may be seeking more than just a father/son, athlete/coach relationship with the boy.
This latent-homosexual subtext, in fact, is just about the only element that separates 'The Slaughter Rule' from countless other films in this genre. Most everything else about the film feels derivative and stale: the emotionally distant parents, the promiscuous, psychologically detached mother, the abusive stepdad, the sweet girl who wants to flee this hicksville town as fast and as far as a bus ticket can take her. Towards the end, especially, the filmmakers start to pile up the heartbreaks and tragedies, one on top of the other, almost to epic proportions. One wonders how so much can happen in so short a time to so small a group of people. In the almost two hour running time of the film, only the ambiguity of the Roy/Gid relationship arouses any real interest in the viewer.
Ryan Gosling is tremendously appealing as the troubled Roy, and David Morse (the father in 'Contact') turns Gid into a nicely sympathetic figure. The starkness of the Montana landscape also provides an appropriate backdrop for the bleak melodrama that is playing itself out in the foreground. Apart from these few quality elements, however, there isn't a whole lot else to commend in 'The Slaughter Rule.'
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