29 November 2002 | dmgoehring
A Moving Film
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.