The Slaughter Rule came out of the Sundance lab and is the striking debut of twin brother writer-directors Alex and Andrew Smith.Set in wintry Montana, it follows Roy Chutney (Ryan Gosling) who’s recently finished school and been dropped from the football team. Almost immediately, Gideon (David Morse) inveigles him into joining the local six-man gridiron side. Gideon wants Roy to be the star quarterback and boasts that six-man football is the tougher, manlier variant of the game.
Gideon wants to be Roy’s coach, father figure and buddy. Their relationship is at the heart of The Slaughter Rule (the title is a literal reference to the game, but also to Roy’s learning to accept responsibility for the fate of others). At times, it echoes the equally fascinating and complex interaction between gay director Jimmy Whale and his straight gardener, Clay Boone, in Gods and Monsters. Gideon doesn’t regard himself as gay by any means, but he has no interest in women. Male bonding and manly affection and camaraderie satisfy his emotional needs. The directors, to their credit, aren’t interested in exploring what Gideon is, but who.
The Slaughter Rule, shot using a wide-screen process, looks terrific. It’s a very assured and accomplished first film. Gosling and Morse are superb, and there are also excellent supporting performances, including Clea DuVall as Roy’s girlfriend.
My chief reservation concerns the ending, which diminishes Gideon to an unambiguously pathetic figure. But an earlier confrontation scene in Gideon’s room, which forms the film’s emotional climax, is a knockout and boasts some of the best acting likely to be seen on screen this year.(The fifth in a series of six short takes on the 2002 Sydney Film Festival - see also The Inside Story, Nobody Someday, Lovely & Amazing, Making Venus and Lost in La Mancha)