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Roy gets cut from his high school football team just days after his estranged father dies. For him, football is more than a proving ground; it is a promised escape from his lonely rural existence and salvation from the paralyzing passivity that dominates his life. Enter Gideon, a loner living on the roughneck fringe who is looking for gamers--kids who scrap hard--to play on his six-man football squad. Roy joins the Renegades, and he and Gideon enter into tenuous friendship that pushes the limits of male bonding. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
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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