Week 27 — Montana
The Slaughter Rule (2002), directed by Alex Smith and Andrew J. Smith, written by Alex Smith and Andrew J. Smith, with Ryan Gosling, David Morse, Clea DuVall, Eddie Spears and Kelly Lynch
I’ve seen The Notebook. I watched it to appease a girl. I’ve seen a lot of movies for this reason, including Vampire in Brooklyn and the Hugh Grant/Sandra Bullock romantic comedy, Two Weeks Notice — both in the theaters. Oh yeah, and Spice World. I’ve also seen Must Love Dogs, Serendipity and Just Like Heaven, all romantic comedies released within the last ten years, all for the same selfless reason.
Where was I? Ah … The Notebook. It was pretty non-offensive. It wasn’t horrible. If anything, it introduced me to a fine young actor named Ryan Gosling.
I didn’t put the face to the name at the time and it wasn’t until a few years later that Gosling’s name popped up again in connection with an independent film called Half Nelson, a movie for which he was nominated for an Academy Award — playing a inner-city school teacher dealing with all the pressures that come along with that job as well keeping an insatiable drug habit under control.
Gosling is just spectacular in Half Nelson and so, like most movie nerds, I looked him up on IMDb to see what other movies he’s been in and learned that, prior to The Notebook, I had actually seen him in an amazing indie film called The Believer, where he played the lead role of an Orthodox Jew who becomes a neo-nazi. The Believer won the grand jury prize at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. It’s a great, brutal little movie.
If I had been paying closer attention to what was going on in the world of indie film in the early 2000s, Ryan Gosling — a former child actor and Mouseketeer — would have been more than “that guy from The Notebook” to me. Maybe when I saw The Notebook for the first (and only) time, I would have gone, “Hey, it’s that guy from The Believer! Haha! What’s he doing in this?”
Gosling actually had acted in a string of incredible roles prior to achieving mainstream success with The Notebook. After The Believer, Gosling starred in The Slaughter Rule. It too was nominated for the grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
The Slaughter Rule revolves around a high-school-age football player living in rural Montana named Roy Chutney, played by Gosling, who — at the start of the film — suffers a number of losses. First, his father is killed in an accident with a train which may or may not be suicide, leaving him in the full-time care of his mother (played by Kelly Lynch, making her second appearance in 50 Movies for 50 States!). Then, his school decides to get rid of its junior varsity football team on which Chutney plays.
Chutney does not make the varsity cut, leaving him a player without a team.
Chutney is drowning his sorrows in beer with his Native American friend, Tracy Two-Dogs (real-life Sioux actor Eddie Spears) when he is approached by local oddball Gideon Ferguson (David Morse of St. Elsewhere and House) about playing for a “six-man” football squad he’s assembling.
I knew nothing about this so-called “six-man” football when I watched The Slaughter Rule. I learned later that six-man football is similar to regular American football, only more fast paced. With less players on each team, players are expected to do more and cover more positions. There are some scoring changes as well. One addition is the “mercy rule” or “slaughter rule,” in which the game is ended if a team is losing by 45 or more points at halftime or at any point after.
Knowing this doesn’t make much of a difference, however, since The Slaughter Rule isn’t a sports movie. There are scenes which depict people playing football. There is plenty of “sports speak.” But it’s no Hoosiers. It’s not about watching a team try and overcome the odds. It’s not about the passion of the game or the thrill of victory. The best way to describe The Slaughter Rule is a study on men’s relationships with football providing an appropriate backdrop, as — along with serving in the same military platoon — playing on the same sports team is probably the closest some men get to having an intimate relationship with another man.
The Slaughter Rule doesn’t focus as much on the relationship between Chutney and his teammates, however. Rather, the focus of The Slaughter Rule is the relationship between Chutney and Ferguson.
Chutney’s motivation for befriending Ferguson may be the easiest to decipher. He gets from Ferguson something he sorely needs — a father figure.
As The Slaughter Rule progresses, it is Ferguson who is the unknown. At first, this is because we know so little about him. There are rumblings about him — rumors … innuendo. There’s a rumor that, not too long ago, a boy who Ferguson coached died and that Ferguson may have been sort of responsible. There’s also a rumor about Ferguson’s sexuality. None of this helps Ferguson’s status as town outcast nor does it help Chutney’s reputation for associating with him.
What does Ferguson get out of his relationship with Chutney? That’s a tough call to make and, even by the end of the film, is debatable.
The Slaughter Rule is not a film heavy on plot, although you probably have that figured out by now. It’s not a movie for everyone. To be honest, it would be a total bore if it weren’t for the acting talents of its lead characters.
David Morse is a name that more people should know. I have a feeling he’ll be one of those actors who I never noticed before, but now that I know who he is, will never miss. His portrayal of Ferguson is raw to the point it had me squirming at points.
As for Gosling, I’m sorry that I ever pegged him as “that Notebook guy.” Hands down, probably one of the most versatile young actors working today. Compare his performances in this film (which is pretty subdued, I must say) with his acting in The Believer or Half Nelson or Lars & The Real Girl or … dare I say it? … The Notebook. Right there, you have five or six different movies … five or six completely different characters. He’s the anti-Michael Cera. Unpeggable.
As for The Slaughter Rule, it’s currently available for Instant Watch on Netflix. If you decide to check it out, look for Enchanted‘s Amy Adams in a very minor role as a cheerleader. Don’t blink or you’ll miss her.
Next Week: High school hijinks!
Matt D.’s Top Five Movie Bromances
5. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in Shaun of the Dead — Nothing brings two best friends closer together like battling the undead. Unless you decide to use a zombie invasion as a convienient excuse to bang your buddy’s wife, in which case you were probably a douchebag to begin with.
4. Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint in the Harry Potter film series — …especially Deathly Hallows Part One, when they have that little spat in the forest where Ron storms off only to come back at just the right time to save his pal Harry’s life. That sense of timing can only be attributed to the psychic link created by a well-established bromance.
3. Michael Cera and Jonah Hill in Superbad — The end of the film where the two bros declare their love for each other is magic and is totally not gay.
2. Elijah Wood and Sean Astin in the Lord of the Rings trilogy — People who try and argue there are homosexual undertones in the relationship between Frodo and Sam, listen: When two men express bromantic feelings to each other, it can be confusing to casual observers. Just because it looks gay, however, doesn’t make it so. There’s lust and then there’s love. Grow up, people!
1. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhall in Brokeback Mountain — It’s not what it seems! Oh wait … I’m being told it is. Like I said before: There’s a fine line. A fine fine line.
The Slaughter Rule on YouTube