The Laramie Project (TV Movie 2002) Poster

(2002 TV Movie)

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Brilliant and moving
circle_718 November 2004
An incredible movie that was brilliantly cast. I watched this movie my freshmen year of college and have revisited it time after time. There is never a lull in the movie--it hits hard and fast with character shifts and emotional dialogue that never sounds forced coming from the actors' mouths. It is the dialogue, transcribed from hundreds of hours of actual interviews with the people of Laramie, that gives this heinous crime a whole new dimension. Though the bigotry that is illustrated is hard to watch, as you observe the courage that certain people in the town showed, you might just find your faith in the human race restored. A must see for everyone.
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A murder in Wyoming
jotix1002 November 2005
A young gay man brutally killed by two young men trying to make a point about their hatred of homosexuals is the basis of Moises Kaufman's brilliant play seen here a few years ago. On the stage the play is somewhat detached because of the limitations in the text, but as a film, adapted for the screen by Mr. Kaufman, the immediacy of the story is more shocking than in the theater.

"The Laramie Project" is seen in a documentary fashion. The director and his assistants went to Laramie to investigate the incident that caused a world wide uproar because of the savage way Matthew Shepard's death had caused. In recreating the facts, Mr. Kaufman has dramatized the story by having real actors play the different people in town with whom he and his collaborators talked during the days of the research trip.

What comes out about the story is that individually, the citizens of Laramie were as shocked as everyone else was. After all, they considerer themselves as pretty tolerant, so why a horrible tragedy like this could ever happened amongst them? In fact, it only takes a pair of misguided individuals, who think thought they would make a statement by inflicting on the unsuspecting Matthew Shepard a punishment he didn't deserve.

The ensemble cast that play the different parts is an inspired choice. Mr. Kaufman was lucky in amassing such talent that respond so well to his commands. Steve Buscemi, Camryn Manhein, Laura Linney, Amy Madigan, Frances Sternhagen, Christina Ricci, Margo Martindale, Kathleen Chalfant, Terry Kinney, just to name a few, give excellent readings about what really occurred in Laramie.

Ultimately, Mr. Kaufman makes his point by just letting the citizens of Laramie come to terms with the horrible tragedy that shook their town.
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Very important and moving
jessreed7 January 2003
I knew when I first heard about the project to put The Laramie Project on-screen that I wanted to see it. I knew, too, that I would find it moving and touching and probably a bit depressing. What I did not know, however, is that it would remind me of my own responsibility to live out loud and honestly. I remember being numb to Matthew Shepherd's death at the time it occurred, thinking how this is just one person out of the thousands whose similar experiences are never heard, so what makes him so special.

What I realized while I watched the film is that it is precisely because he is no more special than other human being that makes his story important, because it could be any gay person's story, even any minority person's story, and whatever draws attention to matters of hate and violence in the name of fear is crucial to the fight for equality of all people.

I realized while watching this film that I let loved ones in my life get away with language that I wouldn't take from a stranger, ignorant comments about how I don't make them uncomfortable because I don't "flaunt my gayness." Seemingly harmless words like "live and let live" are really saying "I will live however I want, and you can live however you want as long as I don't have to hear about it."

The Laramie Project reminded me how precious freedom is and how puritan this supposedly free country still is. I wish this film would become a part of school curriculum, part of office training on sensitivity--it should be viewed by everyone of both sides of the "gay issue." I hope it serves to change some minds.
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A Moving Film
dmgoehring29 November 2002
It took me a long time until I finally rented the DVD version of this. I live in Laramie, I go to the University. I didn't arrive here until 2000, but I was, and always have been, a Wyoming resident. Part of me was curious, especially with the actors involved, but another part realized how close to home this was. How close? My drama teacher Lou Anne Wright played Matthew Shepards mother (albeit uncredited).

When I first started watching this I was really confused. If they were taking a documentary approach, why in the hell would they then use real actors? As I sat and thought about it more, though, it made a bit more sense. The interviews were recorded only audibly at the time of the incident for the play version. You could sit down and reshoot it with the original citizens, but it would no longer feel natural. Plus I doubt they would've gotten all the people to consent to being filmed. Remember this is a small town and anonymity can go a long ways.

Aside from the acted documentary, I really felt they did a good job of trying to bring Laramie to life. Yes, they did focus a bit too much on the train tracks which are more or less out of town. I've only even seen them a few times in my 3 years here. They seperate Laramie from West Laramie. Not East Laramie from West Laramie, but Laramie from West Laramie, which should tell you something. Aside from that, it felt surreal to watch this. When I stepped outside my dorm afterwards to return it, I was staring right in the face of the hotel sign that at the time of filming read "Hate is Not a Laramie Value." I drove down third street and saw Laramie Lumber, I drove back on 4th and saw the antiquated Spic & Span Laundry. When they talk about how they drove past Walmart when they went out to kill him, I knew that road. I've driven home on that road many a time.

The characters were also extremely well-acted. For every character I saw portrayed on screen, I've known at least one Wyoming resident that was exactly like them. While some of the performances may have seemed extreme and hokey to some, I felt they had it down pat. I laughed to myself when Buscemi's character spelled out H-O-P-E for emphasis...I've heard the same silly thing done the same way by the same sort of people. Aside from "Live and Let Live" which I can honestly say I've never heard here in 20 years of WY residence (yet was emphasized over and over in the film), I've heard many of the same statements said almost verbatim by people I know.

The story, of course, is touching, but the route they went of making it the story of Laramie vs. the story of Matthew Shepard made it more than just a movie-of-the-week style thing. You can feel the emotions seeping through the screen. At the angel protest, I felt like jumping up and shouting down the bigoted guy leading the anti-gay side.

For its authenticity and heart-felt storytelling, I can't help but give this one a strong recommendation.
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A Powerful Statement
gftbiloxi3 February 2008
Matthew Shepard was about two months short of his twenty-second birth when he was robbed, beaten, tied to a fence post and left to die in a rural area of Wyoming. The man who found him at first thought he was a scarecrow. Rushed to Poudre Valley Hospital at Fort Collins, he died on 12 October 1998--and when Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney were arrested for the crime they resorted to a defense known as "gay panic." Matthew Shepherd had propositioned them, they said, and they were so horrified that they killed him in response.

The gay community and numerous civil rights watchdog groups were outraged by the defense, and as more and more facts came to light it seemed that the crime was somewhat more complicated than Henderson and McKinney wanted the public to know. Witnesses stated that Henderson and McKinney had specifically targeted Shepherd because he was gay. After much legal wrangling, Henderson pled guilty and testified against McKinney, who was convicted; after still more legal wrangling, and at the request of Shepherd's parents, McKinney escaped the death penalty but has no chance of parole.

The case made headlines from end of the United States to the other and prompted numerous calls for Hate Crimes legislation, which had long been stalled both at the state and federal level. And in the midst of the confusion, chaos, and controversy, Moises Kaufman and the members of The Tectonic Theatre Project arrived on the scene, interviewing more than two hundred people about their thoughts and feelings on the case. These were shaped into THE LARAMIE PROJECT, a drama that debuted in 2000 and which has since shocked, impressed, and deeply moved audiences from coast to coast.

On the stage, THE LARAMIE PROJECT is played by eight performers who enact the numerous interview subjects in a three act, three hour performance on a largely bare stage. When filmed by HBO in 2002, it was reduced in length by about half and each interview subject was performed by a different actor--some of them members of the Techtonic Theatre Project, some of them well-known actors such as Laura Linney and Peter Fonda. The result is indeed powerful... but not as effective as the stage version, for on film it tends be a series of readings by "talking heads," a sort of pseudo-documentary, rather than as a cohesive whole.

That said, the great difference between the film and the original script is one of balance. On stage, THE LARAMIE PROJECT takes no sides per se; it simply sets forth the words and allows the audience to judge. On screen, it is distinctly slanted, cutting much of the commentary that gave the original such remarkable balance. Even so, and although far outstripped by the stage version, it is a powerful voice for equality, tolerance, and simple human decency. Recommended.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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Heart-Rending & Important
sparklecat28 December 2004
"The Laramie Project" is a film version of the play of the same name, culled from interviews with real residents of the town of Laramie, Wyoming in the wake of the horrific murder of Matthew Shepard. There are a lot of famous faces on hand (Steve Buscemi, Christina Ricci, Peter Fonda, Janeane Garofalo, Joshua Jackson, and many others), but the film's power comes from its story, not its stars.

Presented with the voices of Laramie - and ultimately, of America - one is forced to confront the realities of violence and hate in a way that is intense, even infuriating, but extremely worthwhile. An intelligent, complex, and very relevant piece of work.
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another worthwhile HBO movie..
Embley14 August 2002
i was very impressed with this documentary-style tv movie. i appreciated the fact that the filmmaker took this approach, giving a sense (at least i hope) of the people on whom these interviews are based, while allowing a buffer zone so that the real people are not subjected to more publicity OR made to look stupid because of their personal beliefs. i thought it was a very wise approach to take and allows more of an unbiased POV in many ways than would a straight up documentary. not to say that this piece was unbiased - it wasn't - and i don't think it should have been. but the filmmaker did not take any low blows and that was refreshing. the way the whole piece was put together was different - i could feel the theatrical aspect coming in, the visuals were much more fractured than a standard tv movie, and i could REALLY appreciate that this was not just another murder story come to life on screen.

thank you for not doing a re-enactment of the crime! i think it was WAY more effective to hear it described by people. i found the laramie project to be horrifying and touching, and i wish more pieces were made that hit at such a gut level. i won't forget this movie.
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See the play
oalvarez-227 March 2006
While this film is very powerful for those unfamiliar with the incident and/or the play, I think it loses quite a bit of the depth that the stage version has. The play is a sparkling piece of experimental theater that invariably is produced by small ensembles taking on six to ten roles each. The set is minimalist, usually containing no more than a few chairs and a table. When you take away the visuals, and you take away the famous actors, what are you left with? The words. I think that the movie version takes away from that, with the flashy camera angles and editing. The characters (as they became in the movie; they are more true-to-life in the play) were pretty well-portrayed in the movie, with some disappointing exceptions (Jedediah Schultz, for example). The story still gets through, and you still understand that this is an issue of enormous gravity. But I reiterate my opinion that the play is much better.
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Powerful, moving
preppy-36 January 2003
Excellent cable movie dealing with the horrendous murder of gay Matthew Shepard in 1998 in Laramie, Wyoming. A theatre group went to the town and interviewed the citizens and came back with 400 hours of material. This became a play with actors playing the towns citizens. It's now been done as an HBO film with a top-notch cast playing the citizens. There are also reenactments of the trial of the two murderers and their convictions. This is definetely a strange film but totally fascinating with many powerful moments. The scene where Matthew Shepard's father addresses one of the killers of his son is gut-wrenching--it's hard to believe it's just an actor reading dialogue.

Previous posters have complained about not using the real townspeople talking. I don't think that's a valid argument--many of these people probably wouldn't want to appear on film and would they really want to go through recreations of the trial and the protests outside?

Also, there's not one bad acting job from anybody in the cast but special honors go to Camryn Manheim, Christina Ricci and Amy Madigan.

A powerful, painful film. A definite must-see for everybody.
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Thoughtful, Stunning.
SunRock1710 September 2003
A work that is exceptional both in terms of its structure and in terms of the unique nature of the presentation. It brings into sharp focus many of the complex elements of a horror like this and the profound effects which it has on the many disparate participants.

The quality of the acting is superb evidencing a dedication to the material that goes beyond mere craftwork; many of the performances are obviously from the heart and the soul. Dylan Baker, Amy Madigan, Jeremy Davies, Peter Fonda, Joshua Jackson, and Camryn Manheim are stellar. The courtroom speech by Matthew's Father is historical. The direction is challenging and engaging.

It takes a truly cold, trite, and hardened heart to dismiss such a moving film predicated solely upon the prejudices, regressive political posturing, and obvious homophobia brought to such dismissals.
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" As a Christian, I'm sorry for what they did, but they should both be condemned to death "
thinker169114 June 2010
On October, 7th, 1998, two local men from the town of Laramie Wyoming, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, kidnapped a young student named Matthew Shepard with the intend to rob and assault him. Not content to pistol whip, torture and beat him senseless, they tied him to a fence in a remote area and left him to die. Five days later Matthew passed away. This insightful movie called " The Laramie Project " was written and directed by Moises Kaufman for the stage, but has been converted to the silver screen. The film is a compilation of interviews ostensibly expressing the regret and sorrow of the townspeople. To give it a more professional appearance, Kaufman substituted professional actors like Peter Fonda, Clancy Brown, Steve Buscemi and Dylan Baker for the more vocal residents. The movie is shot Documentary style but does contain many of the original statements, quotes and speeches given by the actual townsfolk. The end result is a compelling story of a 21 year old being murdered for his sexual orientation. However, the one aspect I found wanting were the interviews NOT heard. Too often, those bigoted or biased individuals gave their artificially sympathetic opinions ON Camera, but what would they have said Off camera, where they would have been more honest about what they believed. Nevertheless, the legacy of Matthew did not receive closure in Wyoming for years. Indeed his case would have to wait until 2009, when President Obama signed a Federal law making it as a hate crime. Something the spineless citizens of Wyoming have been unable to do. A good film for a conscience seeking audience. ****
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Total Propaganda
Toakie27 January 2003
This film infuriated me for the simple fact that it was made only because Shepherd was gay. The men who murdered him are clearly wicked. What happened to the poor man was truly horrible and a tragedy. However, where was Hollywood when four religious white kids were executed, after being forced to perform a host of sex acts on their killers and each other, by two evil black men in Wichita just two years ago? The celebrities only mug for the camera when it serves a political purpose. Also, Laramie is portrayed in a poor light by this pseudo-documentary, which of course is hardly surprising because they are the backward hicks who must be educated by omniscient and enlightened Californians. Still, it's always a treat to see Laura Linney.
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A story that resonates and shocks us
MarieGabrielle4 February 2006
into reality. Many previous reviewers have delineated the basic theme, as well as the excellent cast. After having seen this several times, however, I sincerely hope my review will also be read, as I wish to credit Moises Kaufman on his play, and smooth translation into film. The cast does not overpower the true story, which is a difficult feat to accomplish.

When you see the car scene wherein Matthew Sheppard is being taken to the scene of his murder, it is quite chilling. The contrast of man's inhumanity to man against the beauty of the Laramie, Wisconsin landscape is stark and true. There is no melodrama here, just reality and the sad story which needs telling.

The division of classes amongst college students and "townies" is shown in realistic fashion. The sad fact is this exists on most campuses, to a lesser degree, of course. The group mentality and proliferation of hatred and violence which precluded this murder are examined, as well as the townspeople's reactions to it. We see Stockard Channing and Sam Waterston as the bereaved parents, Peter Fonda as the weary physician, Janeane Garofalo as a lesbian, feeling afraid for her life. Christina Ricci and Clea Duvall also do very well, as a younger generation disrupted by violence. We also see Laura Linney, always credible, as a Laramie resident angry that the murder receives too much media attention.

Overall, this is a complex and tragic subject which deserves much more attention. Highly recommended.
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A film that puts a lot of faith in its audience
deproduction15 January 2002
The film was well-done. It looked beautiful and was well-acted. Having seen the play, I was impressed to see that the film project took on a life of its own and did not come across simply as a play on film.

I must say that in the end, I hungered for more info on the 5-member team that went to Laramie, and on their reactions and motivations for writing the play/film. As is, the writer/director has chosen to let the events and the people of Laramie to speak for themselves. This is effective, but leaves the film as nothing more than a pseudo-documentary, or a re-enactment.

If you choose to make a film out of these powerful words and events, I would love to hear more from the company members about why they wrote the play, what they feel we need to overcome as a country to prevent the kind of hatred and separatism that led to the event, and exactly what role they feel art (and more specifically, this project) can play in that growth.

Maybe I'm just asking them to spoon-feed me my "lesson", instead of trusting me to draw the messages out of the film myself.

In any case, I congratulate all involved (HBO, Good Machine, Sundance, etc) for taking a chance on this important and unique film. I hope to hear from the Tectonic Theatre Company again soon.
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An okay film filled with familiar faces.
oandafan11 January 2002
This screened at Sundance last night to a receptive if mute crowd. Clearly the story is worth relating, it's powerful and true, but did the director have to cast every single role with a recognizable face? I mean, really, you spend have your time saying "Oh look, it's the guy from 'Armageddon'", or "Hey, it's Easy Rider!" and you lose sight of the story. Perhaps it's the only way this guy could get his movie made, but it's a little distracting, sort of like 'The Love Boat", or those old Towering Inferno movies, that were 'chock o' block with stars!'. I wish he's just told the story simply with less famous faces. Also, the camera work seems kind of lazy, like there wasn't any thought about where to put the camera to best tell the story. All in all, I thought it was okay, but could have been really good.
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Demagogic movie
chilindrina20023 December 2005
There's nothing new in this movie. Nothing you haven't thought about before, nothing you haven't heard before. The story of a gay man who is brutally murdered in a small town and the reaction of people can be broached in many ways, and this movie has chosen the most demagogic and slushy one. One of the biggest flaws in this movie is that it isn't neither a movie nor a documentary. The director has used the transcriptions of the original interviews and made the actors play them as if it was a movie. The result is weird. And finally, I read in previous comments that stated that people who don't like this movie are anti-gay. I'm pretty sure this comments come from people who consider themselves tolerant but don't tolerate that other people don't like this movie. This is a funny world.
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The first national gay martyr
bkoganbing11 December 2013
The Laramie Project and the death of Matthew Shepard probably affected me a bit different than others. When he died in October of 2002 I was still working at New York State Crime Victims Board as an investigator and the only openly gay one they ever had. Across my desk I handled several hundred LGBT crime victims of all kinds including some that were bias attacks and some that ended fatally like Matthew's attack did. In those fatalities any one of those could have become our first national gay martyr. In fact right now as I write this I went back and did some research for an article I wrote on the late Winthrop Bean whose case for a variety of reasons never got the attention it should back in 1983.

So what was it that made Matthew Shepard the first gay bias homicide victim to receive national attention? My belief was the visual of that fence on a lonely road where he was hung like a scarecrow and left to die after a vicious beating just grabbed the media's attention. And the fact that Matthew was as described barely 5' 2" in height and soaking wet might weighed 110 pounds. I was not much heavier than he at that age although a good deal taller. How could a little kid like that hurt anyone, to whom was he a threat?

The Laramie Project by Moises Kaufman is based on a series of interviews that the author did and from that wrote his docudrama play and several Hollywood names lent their talents to it. And it was shot on location in Laramie, a town like the other large cities in Wyoming that owned its existence to the Union Pacific railway.

For better or worse Laramie will forever be associated with Matthew Shepard's murder. Just like Harlingen, Texas is associated with the dragging death of James Byrd and Scottsboro, Alabama with the Scottsboro boys and their trial. People there wondered why such a thing can happen, but some of their own answers belied the reasons why.

I remember in 1998 when all the large cities in America had Matthew Shepard vigils. I was in one in Buffalo and a good friend was there had actually gone to the University of Wyoming in Laramie and told me when he went there he never had a problem. Of course he also said he was most discreet while there.

My favorite moment in the play was Camryn Manheim when she declared how happy she was that Aaron McKinney said that it was about homosexual panic, how dare Matthew Shepard come on to him. Poor stupid McKinney, all he had to say is I don't go that way or just push all 5'2" of Matthew away from him if he got physical. But that's how he and Russell Henderson were brought up, it's what you do with gays who have the effrontery to think you're one of them. She was concerned that he'd try to get out of it by saying it was just a robbery gone bad or something else to lessen the bias edge. But McKinney confessed and thought he was justified. Not even in Wyoming when the whole world is watching.

Since 1998 civil rights laws, gay inclusive hate crime laws, and even LGBT marriages in several states have passed. A lot of that is due to the national conscious awakening of anti-gay bias and how it can lead to tragedy. And the fact that LGBT people aren't going away until they've received full legal, economic, and social equality. A fact a lot of our opponents just will not grasp.

Matthew in your short life you accomplished more than you could ever have realized. RIP little one.

As for The Laramie Project this film is a must see for audiences, especially young audiences.
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A Sad and Eye Opening Story
ekulwyo18 May 2006
I live in Cheyenne, WY, a short 45 minute drive from the beautiful small town of Laramie. Unfourtanitly, after the murder of Matthew Sheppard, we are seen as a heavily Conservative hate-state. This is absolutely false. We are, for the most part, a very accepting and tolerant state. While we do have a very Conservative/Republican population, as well as a large Mormon population, we are not a hate state.

With that said, this was an eye opening film. It truly shows the problebms we have with tolerance and hatred towards homosexuals these days. If we can learn anything from these tragedies, it should be that tolerance towards homosexuals is of utmost importance. Also, love can heal every would. Mrs. Sheppard's foregiveness towards the murderes is a great example.

By the way, I am a Catholic. Jesus did not hate anyone. Keep that in mind.
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Somewhat overwrought, but worth a look
bellacat2 April 2002
Despite the best of intentions, this never rises above the level of a movie of the week. There's an inordinate amount of scenery chewing, and the music (swelling violins, etc.) is unbelievably distracting for the first third of the film. The story itself is riveting, however, and it's no stretch to see how it might have played better onstage. In the end, the film is a quirky love letter to the town of Laramie, Wyoming (not sure if that's what Kaufman intended), and even the coolest of viewers will probably mist up at some point along the way...
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this is not the play or us
hour4chris27 March 2002
This was a good film. When I saw this movie on T.V. the first thing that went through my mind was it was good but the actors did not portray the people of Wyoming accurately. Most of us do not use words like "Intoxificated" like it was implyed in the fireside bar scene. I also saw the play here in Laramie and as the last performance of Mr. Kaufman's original cast. The play was the most powerful play I have seen in a long time and was surprised when the movie did not measure up to the play. The Movie did not do the play justice. As I am only a student living in Laramie I can not believe the residents of Laramie allowed the movie to be released under these conditions. During the last performance it was filmed by H.B.O. and it was told to us the movie would be as close to the play as possible and seeing that it was more hype then the play I was disapointed. I would like to say also the people of Laramie do not act like the way they are portrayed.
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Garden2212 March 2002
I never really thought of this as a movie, or documentary. I think it's more of an actors' showcase. "Could you be any more.... powerful?", I imagined them saying.

If it was a straight documentary it would have been much more effective.
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Man, what garbage...
Jesus, the whole actor docu-testimonial thing has got to go! Instead of making a film based simply around the events you get a mock up documentry with tons of unconvincing and worthless actors, and in my eyes at least it does more to mock the townfolk than represent them...real convincing. About the only thing this gay sympathy film deserves IS sympathy because its downright pathetic.
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What utter tripe
CoenHead14 March 2002
This "film" is not worth commenting on. It is abysmal, it is pretentious beyond description, and its premise is offensive beyond belief - that the murder of a homosexual is in some manner more memorable and regrettable than the murder of anyone else. This utter waste of celluloid belongs in the circular file - don't waste your time.
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