Monday Movie: The Slaughter Rule, by David Bax
For a while there, I was getting really disappointed in Ryan Gosling. Sure, he was great in Half Nelson but most of his other work, from The United States of Leland to Fracture to the overrated Drive, left me cold. Thankfully, he’s been on a hell of a role starting with 2011’s Crazy, Stupid, Love. But perhaps my reluctance to embrace his talents stemmed from the fact that he made such a strong early impression on me with two of his earliest roles. Like a lot of people, I became aware of Gosling in 2001 when he made a splash with a virtuosic performance in an otherwise overwrought film called The Believer. It was the next year, however, that my confidence in him was solidified. In 2002, he starred in a woefully under-seen indie called The Slaughter Rule. The feature debut of brothers Alex and Andrew Smith (whose only other feature was 2013’s Winter in the Blood), The Slaughter Rule tells the story of a high school senior named Roy in a small Montana town who, after being cut from the school football team, starts playing in an unsanctioned six-man football league. He is recruited and coached by a man named Gideon, an out-of-towner who draws suspicion from the community and, later, from Roy. Gideon (played by David Morse in what might be the best performance of his stellar career) seems at first to serve as a father figure to Roy, whose own dad has recently died after years of being absent from his son’s life. But what role does such a figure play in the life of an eighteen-year-old? And are Gideon’s intentions towards Roy actually noble? The Smiths explore American masculinity with as much detail as their camera explores the cold, desolate beauty of Montana in the wintertime. The film’s soundtrack is noteworthy in its own right. With an original score by Jay Farrar (from Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt) and songs from Neko Case, The Pernice Brother and the dearly departed Vic Chesnutt, among others, it’s a time capsule of the early ‘00’s “alt-country” explosion. And since it also includes songs from the likes of Speedy West and The Flatlanders (the latter being one of the greatest groups you’ve probably never heard of), it gives some background on where that music came from. Oh and Wylie Gustafson, the guy who yodeled in the Yahoo commercials and an outstanding musician in his own right, actually appears in the film. If you’re interested in both contemporary and classic Americana music, the soundtrack album is as essential as the film. If you’re not, you’ll love the movie anyway. It’s beautiful and intense. The only downside is that you might start holding Gosling up to a standard he’s only recently been able to reach again.