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Case Number 00605

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Boys Don't Cry

Fox // 1999 // 118 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Harold Gervais (Retired) // June 26th, 2000

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All Rise...

Editor's Note

Our review of Cinema Pride Collection, published July 7th, 2010, is also available.

The Charge

A true story about finding the courage to be yourself.

Opening Statement

Boys Don't Cry is Director Kimberly Peirce's film about the life and death of Teena Brandon. A young woman from a small town who found herself more comfortable in the role of a man than of a woman. A person who dared to live a dream and paid the consequences.

The movie spans the time Brandon spent in Falls City, Nebraska. The film shows the friends he made and the girl he fell in love with. It was some of these same friends who would brutally rape him when his secret became public and then a week later, murder him.

The Evidence

The first thing that must be talked about in regard to Boys Don't Cry is the performance of Hilary Swank (Heartwood, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and the upcoming film from Sam Raimi, The Gift), in the lead role of Teena Brandon/Brandon Teena. I cannot recall an actor in recent years that so deserved the awards heaped upon them. For once the Academy Awards got it right, Swank deserved her Oscar. Swank is so convincing in the role that I always found myself thinking and reacting to Brandon as a man. It is brave, honest and thoroughly convincing work from a truly gifted performer.

A chronic screw-up, always on the run from people and the law, Brandon is a person who could easily be viewed in a negative light but Swank brings a sweet sense of innocence and purpose to role. Its a role and a performance that Swank will always be remembered for.

As the girl who will fall in love with the strange boy from Lincoln, Nebraska, Chloe Sevigny (The Last Days Of Disco, Trees Lounge, Kids), is equally brilliant as Lana Tisdal.

I felt in many ways Sevigny had the more difficult of the two roles. Where Brandon has already made his life choice, Sevigny has to convey and go through many changes during the course of the story. Changes and emotional growth that she handles in a very natural manner all the while maintaining an almost child like innocence. One of the big questions the films asks is when did Lana realize that Brandon was not a male. To her credit it's a question that Sevigny never really answers, content to instead hide her own secrets and maintain a mystery of her own. Sevigny is one of those actors that the camera loves and she is impossible not to look at.

To watch these two characters fall in love is to believe these people and the circumstances that surround them. Together Sevigny and Swank are one of the best romantic duos in recent memory.

The supporting cast is as strong as the leads. As the man who will be Brandon's undoing, Peter Sarsgaad (Another Day In Paradise, Dead Man Walking), is equal parts violence and need as John Lotter. Not a simple screen villain, Lotter, in the hands of Sarsgaad and Director Peirce, is more a byproduct of the society that brought him up. Unable to process the questions to his manhood that Brandon has raised, Lotter lashes out in the only way he knows how. The film is careful not to make excuses for his actions but instead presents them in a real and almost clinical fashion. It is an artistic choice that makes what happens even more frightening. With his literal partner-in-crime, Tom Nissen (Brendan Sexton—Desert Blue, Pecker, Welcome To The Dollhouse), pushing him forward, the two go to such lengths, the only possible end is tragic.

Credit must be given to Director/Co-Writer Kimberly Peirce and this labor of love of hers. Instead of falling into the trap of being a trashy movie-of-the-week style film, Boys Don't Cry takes the higher road. The movie can in fact, be easily viewed as "Romeo and Juliet" set in rural Nebraska. Not content to be simple sociology, the film instead soars as a romantic tragedy with Brandon and Lana as the star crossed and doomed lovers.

It is this inevitable sense of hopelessness that courses through and defines the film. I'm convinced that even those totally ignorant of Teena Brandon and his story would feel the riptide that runs through the movie. The movie has a sense of purpose and direction that is undeniable.

Peirce's direction is calm and assured, never going over-the-top. There is a leanness to the imagery that stands in direct contrast to the emotional complexities her characters are experiencing. Peirce really is a great talent and I look forward to seeing more work from her.

As for the disc itself. Well, what a difference 6 months can make. Since Fox has made the jump into both the anamorphic and the special edition pool, I find it much easier to buy their product (no we don't get everything free here at the Verdict). With such recent releases as Fight Club, Patton and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Fox has made themselves a force to be reckoned with in the crazy world of DVD.

For Boys Don't Cry, Fox has given the film a beautiful anamorphic transfer that maintains the films original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. While the picture is not perfect, there is a noticeable amount of grain to the image, I think it probably has more to do with the low budget of the movie than with the care of its reproduction for home video. Contrast is especially strong and colors are lifelike and natural looking. The picture does a wonderful job of handling blacks and shadows. Those darkly lighted images are solid with no digital shimmer or breakup and detail is strong. Indeed, the job done on the video is a strong one.

On the audio end, two choices are given. There is a good Dolby 2 channel surround mix and a very good Dolby Digital 5.1 offering. The 5.1 is active without being overbearing. It is well mixed and clear. Dialogue is never a problem and the film's soundtrack is heard to very good advantage. There is minimal distortion to be heard with background noise and hiss practically nonexistent.

The primary extra feature, again what a difference a few months make, is an audio commentary from Director Kimberly Peirce that is scene specific. It was an audio track that I was very impressed with. Peirce is informative and direct in her discussion of her movie. It is not one of those gushing, "isn't everyone great" style of commentaries but instead a serious minded talk of what went into the making of the movie and of her various motivations. There are several filmmakers who could learn a thing or two from Ms. Peirce. Also included are the film's original theatrical trailer and a boatload of television spots for the movie. The disc is rounded out by an all too brief making of featurette and is held in the preferred alpha keep case.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

In all honesty, while I think that Boys Don't Cry is both a great film as well as a very important piece of cinematic work, it is at times, quite difficult to watch. The movie is unflinching in its depiction of the cruelties inflicted upon Brandon at the end. Add into that, it features one of the most mature looks at an alternative relationship between two women that has been seen in a mainstream movie in a long time. While never titillating or exploitive, the love shared between Lana and Brandon is honest and very moving. Again most credit must go to Swank and Sevigny. I so fell into the belief of Swank as a man that never once thought of her as a lesbian. The scenes of lovemaking the two shared simply came off as natural and sweet.

I suppose what I am saying is that if you are easily offended or have narrow view of what love is supposed to be and a low tolerance for frank, somewhat sadistic onscreen violence, this film may be one you want to avoid. My main complaint with the disc itself is a general one that is not just directed at Fox.

If the disc is going to include an audio commentary track and the director or whoever is going to make reference to scenes that were cut for this reason or that reason, well, show us the damn scenes! To do anything less is a tease and pretty annoying.

Also, at about 5 minutes, the featurette is far too short. This is an important work with a very interesting history. There is also a documentary about Brandon Teena that came out around the same time as this film called The Brandon Teena Story and I would have liked some reference made to it as well.

Closing Statement

I said the same thing in my recent decision on Topsy-Turvy but the more I look at films from 1999, the more convinced I am that last year produced some of the strongest movies since the 1970s. 1999 is the year that produced such diverse works as 3 Kings, Being John Malkovich, American Beauty, Topsy-Turvy, Bringing Out The Dead, Fight Club and The Insider. Not to mention lesser known movies like Election, Felicia's Journey, The Iron Giant, Rushmore and South Park- Bigger, Longer and Uncut. Well, I think Boys Don't Cry needs to be added to that list. It is an important film and one that deserves to be experienced.

While I don't know how often I will want return to Boys Don't Cry over the years, it belongs on the shelf. Its an instant classic that I think will only grow in stature over the years. Also the tandem of Hilary Swank and Chloe Sevigny really do give performances that defy description.

If you have not seen this movie or have been putting it off and you are a serious lover of film, do yourself a favor. Pick this movie up and prepare to be moved.

The Verdict

Everyone involved with Boys Don't Cry is acquitted of all charges. Fox is thanked for another great disc.

A moment of silence for Teena Brandon.

That is it. Case dismissed.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 93
Audio: 95
Extras: 85
Acting: 99
Story: 95
Judgment: 99

Perp Profile

Studio: Fox
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• English
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Biographical
• Drama
• Gay
• Independent

Distinguishing Marks

• Scene Specific Commentary By Director Kimberly Pierce
• Featurette
• Theatrical Trailer
• Television Spots


• IMDb
• Brandon Teena: Memorial

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