It would be easy to make a self-righteous, preachy, mawkish film about the murder of Mathew Sheppard. The moral issues in the case are pretty black and white, which would allow you to wallow in your in sense of self righteousness and to cater to that of the audience. You could use the political implications of the killing as an excuse to espouse your own agenda. Plus, you could invite a bucket o’ Hollywood liberals who
would be happy to put in a couple of days on the film and feel good about themselves. So that’s what someone did.
This movie is such sentimental, manipulative bullshit that it
becomes as repulsive as the used hankies it hopes to inspire. The horribly touchy
feely music is straight out of a commercial for children’s cough syrup. About every
five minutes or so, a bigoted statement is presented and an actor responds with total
shock–their eyes wet, they might even pull at their hair. It’s like watching that
anti-liter commercial with the crying Indian on a loop.
Wow, I made two comparisons to commercials, which is sort of bad
writing. I guess it’s because I can’t think of anything else that has much in common with
The Laramie Project . In terms of sentimentality, it makes Pay It Forward
look like a Kubrick film. The dialog and acting are pretty mawkish as well. Very often,
when someone is supposed to be saying something profound you get the old meaningful pause,
or the line is repeated a second time with greater conviction. And you’ll find more
cracking voices in this film than at your local middle school.
Also, as “db Smith” says on imbd, “did the director have to cast
every single role with a recognizable face? I mean, really, you spend half your time
saying “Oh look, it’s the guy from ‘Armageddon'”, or “Hey, it’s Easy Rider!” and you lose
sight of the story it’s a little distracting, sort of like ‘The Love Boat”, or those old
Towering Inferno movies, that were ‘chock o’ block with stars!” Especially considering
the film aspires to a documentary quality.
On the other hand, like the Omega Code fiascos, this film is interesting in that
it simultaneously espouses, and reveals the simple mindedness behind a political agenda.
First we see a sequence of politicians speaking in favor of hate crimes legislation.
There’s no doubt that the filmmakers sympathies are with the speakers. The counterargument
comes from one of the local rubes who says, “if you kill someone you hate them.” I think
they play the theme from Jaws while she’s talking. Later, one of the film’s more
intelligent characters advocates hate crimes legislation again. It’s been a year and he is
shocked and appalled and we are supposed to be shocked and appalled that the legislation
I’m against such legislation because I don’t think the government
should regulate emotions and thoughts, such as hate. And cuz I hate fags. [Ed Note: So does God, apparently.] But the
problem isn’t that I disagree with the film, it’s that the film is second-rate propaganda.
If you were to distill an argument it might run something like: there are bigoted people,
who are motivated by their bigotry to do horrible things; look at this example, isn’t it
upsetting?; let’s pass hate crimes legislation. If you want to give an argument for the
legislation, I’m all ears, but this tacked on appeal to emotion is an insult to the
intelligence of the audience, or at least it should be. It’s also how hate crimes
(and lots of other) legislation is usually argued for. So in that respect, the film is a
useful illustration of the state of political discourse in the U.S.
Another thing that bothered me about the film is that it seems to
go out of its way to make the locals look like stupid rubes. Hey, if they are, they are.
Such a portrayal doesn’t bother me on a moral level. But the provincialism of the
characters should be revealed organically. Instead, the choices of which dialog to
include–if this dialog is indeed taken verbatim from interviews-sometimes seem forced.
“We absolutely have to get that guy mispronouncing ‘Hilfiger.'” And I’m inclined
to doubt that a bartender, of all people, says “intoxificated” when he means ‘intoxicated.’
Maybe some guy had a slip of the tongue in his interview. But including the slip in the
movie is distracting because, again, you just think, “fuck, they really want to make this
guy look stupid” when you should be thinking about the testimony being given by the
I guess even HBO is bound to fuck up once in a while.