14 January 2003 | B24
As a subscriber to Sundance Channel, I am intrigued by recurrent programming patterns in the films shown. Recently, for example, there has been a spate of male-oriented psycho-sexual dramas that go deeply into themes usually represented in mainstream cinema as subconscious or accidental phenomena.
In The Slaughter Rule as well as other recent offerings like L.I.E. or Priest or Taboo (originally Gohatto), characters reveal emotions that seem designed specifically to break new ground in the amorphic area between ordinary storytelling and what some would call pornography. The common word to describe this is "disturbing." But just as Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Midnight Cowboy, and Harold and Maude opened people's eyes in the 60's and 70's to the possibilities of "disturbing" cinema as literature, these new films may lead in my view to an entirely new public attitude about the inherent validity of the effort.
To be sure, The Slaughter Rule is a flawed film. So are many others of its kind to date. Its premise, however, is sound. One can nitpick about cinematic values, geographical anomalies, or plot distractions, etc., but to be able to see disparate fictional characters get under each other's skin is what makes any drama come to life. Added to that in this case is a very competent job of producing, directing, and editing. Moreover, no one can quarrel with the acting performance of David Morse.
Coming to grips with overtly sexual themes in films -- particularly those that deal seriously with "disturbing" but very real kinds of human emotions -- is a challenging task not only for moviemakers like the Smiths, but also for viewers. I give this movie an "E" for effort and a solid 9 out of 10 for everything else.