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Boys Don't Cry(1999)
In Falls City, Nebraska, Brandon Teena arrives to start a new future for himself. The local community falls for his charms and everyone becomes drawn to his innocence and wit. However, behind the charming persona is a totally different person - Brandon is actually a woman. After falling for a local karaoke singer, Brandon moves in with her family and wins them over. But when Brandon's secret is finally out, the rest of the family all turn against him, branding him sick and evil.
For more about Boys Don't Cry and the Boys Don't Cry Blu-ray release, see Boys Don't Cry Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on February 21, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Hilary Swank, Chloë Sevigny, Peter Sarsgaard, Brendan Sexton III, Alison Folland, Alicia Goranson
Director: Kimberly Peirce
» See full cast & crew
Boys Don't Cry Blu-ray Review
A gender-bending, blue-collar Romeo and Juliet.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, February 21, 2011
In 1999, a year after gay teenager Matthew Shepard's brutal death-by-beating triggered national awareness of hate crimes against homosexuals, writer/director Kimberly Pierce further pushed the issue to the cultural forefront with her daring true crime film Boys Don't Cry, a dramatization of the real-life events that led to the murder of 21-year-old Brandon Teena, a preoperative female-to-male transgender who was raped and killed by two acquaintances after they discovered he was biologically female. Over a decade later, the film is no less relevant, especially considering the rash of anti-gay bullying-related suicides in late 2010, incidences that serve to remind us that no matter how far civil rights for homosexuals have come in the intervening years, discrimination and outright hatred are unfortunately still prevalent. It's easy, then, to see Boys Don't Cry as a mere message movie, railing against how ignorance begets violence, but Pierce's filmmaking debut is so much more. Thematically, it's rich with allusions and associations—conformity vs. identity, doomed lovers, the unobtainable nature of the American Dream, the fluidity of sexuality—and it draws from inspirations as diverse as Badlands, David Lynch, and The Wizard of Oz.
In her breakout role, Hilary Swank plays Brandon Teena—born Teena Brandon—who, when the film opens, has just shorn her hair and put a rolled up sock in her underwear. In blue jeans, a plaid shirt, and a cowboy hat, the illusion is complete—she is now a he, and identifies as such. The aura of thrill is palpable when Brandon heads down to the local, Lincoln, Nebraska roller rink to flirt with girls. With his wide, toothy grin, boyish looks, and affected swagger, he snags a skating partner quickly. He's passing, and you can see his elation at pulling off the ruse. It won't always be this easy. When Brandon gets thrown out of his cousin's trailer after a bar fight, he moves—drifts, perhaps, would be a better word—to Fall City, the kind of rural nowheresville where joy riding, "bumper skiing," and hanging out in front of the Quik Stop are the only sources of amusement. (Also, it should be said, the kind of place that doesn't look too kindly on the LGBT community.) Here, he falls in with a dysfunctional, makeshift family of sorts that welcomes him into their fold.
At the center of the group is the strawberry-haired and ennui-inflicted Lana Tisdel (Chloë Sevigny), whose alcoholic mother has basically opened their home to the town's troubled youth. Lana's charismatic ex-con ex-boyfriend, John Lotter (Peter Sarsgaard), is the domineering father figure of this unkempt brood—which also includes sweet single mom Candace (Alicia Gorensen) and pyro lackey Tom (Brendan Sexton III)—and Brandon initially idolizes him as a model of masculinity. For a spell, it seems like Brandon has finally found a place where he can be himself, and despite our awareness of the grim events to come, these early scenes are alive with an exuberant, dangerous, giving-the-finger-to-the-world sense of freedom. The happy family falls apart, though, when Brandon and Lana become romantic and John begins to speculate that Brandon may not be who—or what—he says he is.
As historical record dictates, this all ends in a brutal, dignity-stripping sexual assault, a violent rape, and, eventually, murder—a sequence of events that's uneasy to watch but powerfully staged. A film like this could easily disintegrate into salacious tabloid pulp, but in focusing on relationships rather than mere lurid details, director Kimberly Pierce finds the emotional and psychological heart of this devastating true story, raising it to the level of high tragedy. And the tragic flaw—for all of the characters—is ignorance. Brandon's bid for a new identity is a good thing, but he undermines himself with the naďve assumption that he can keep his disguise a secret. Lana, meanwhile, is so in love with Brandon that when she finally discovers the truth, she willfully chooses not to acknowledge it. And as for John and Tom—red blooded good old boys with a rather twisted view of what it means to be a man—their ignorance is of the bigoted variety: they're afraid of what they don't understand. When they realize they've been had, they react out of fear and a desperate need for control.
As much as we hate John's actions, we understand his motivations, and it's a credit to Sarsgaard, Pierce, and co-writer Andy Bienen that the character never devolves into a one-note villain. He's a man who doctors say "ain't got no impulse control," and Sarsgaard plays him with a terrifying mix of redneck charm and volcanic unpredictability. The other characters are just as complex. Brandon Sexton's Tom is a bundle of neuroses, a skin- cutter and fire-starter, and as Lana, Chloë Sevigny embodies the old "love is blind" maxim—she doesn't want to see what she can't accept. It's Hilary Swank, though, that gives the film its soul. Not many actresses could pull off this kind of all-encompassing physical and mental transformation, and she fully deserved the Best Actress Oscar she won for her performance.
Tonally, the film is somewhere between the stark true-crime nonfiction of In Cold Blood and the off-kilter small town nightmare vibe of a David Lynch film. Pierce's cinematography and setting—the desolate nothingness of Fall City—is immediately evocative, with dingy convenience stores and their menacing, beer-buying patrons, barren stretches of highway lit by dim headlights, humming power-lines strung across the sky, and crooked backyard sheds that seem to house some unspeakable evil. It's a vision of the rural Midwest as a timeless, inescapable purgatory. Brandon and Lana talk about moving to Memphis—Lana's sad dream is to somehow make ends meet as a karaoke singer—but, of course, they'll never make it. For these ill-fated lovers, Memphis may as well be a shimmering, unobtainable mirage.
Boys Don't Cry Blu-ray, Video Quality
Boys Don't Cry debuts on Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that's a suitable upgrade from the film's DVD release, although—and I'm only speculating here—it looks to me like it was possibly sourced from an old master. The picture is frequently soft—it always has been, to some extent— and fine detail is not nearly as refined as it perhaps could be. Additionally, there are light traces of noise reduction that also have a softening effect. I stress that this is light DNR. Grain is still visible, just not as sharp as it would be normally. On the plus side, while the film's palette is rather bleak, color reproduction is strong and stable, with no pulsing, flickering, or boosting. Black levels are sufficiently deep and contrast is consistent as well. Likewise, there don't appear to be any excess compression issues. While I'm fairly confident the film could look better—given the money and effort—I'm content for now with the image as it's presented here.
Boys Don't Cry Blu-ray, Audio Quality
I have no problems at all with the film's rather straightforward DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, which offers few aural embellishments but hits all the essentials—clarity, dynamic breadth, and a balanced mix. The rear channels are mostly used for quiet ambient effects—barking dogs, wind, outdoorsy noise, barroom chatter—but the score by Nathan Larson (member of 1990s band Shudder to Think) occasionally fills the soundfield as well. Most of the film is carried by dialogue, which is expressive, clear, and comprehensible throughout. There's really nothing notable about the track, but there are no problems either. The disc also includes audio and subtitle tracks in a panoply of languages.
Boys Don't Cry Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Unfortunately, there are no new supplements—I'd love a retrospective with Hilary Swank and Chloë Sevigny—but I have to say, Kimberly Pierce's commentary track is one of the most thoughtful and thorough I've heard in a good while.
Boys Don't Cry Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
One of the best films of 1999, Boys Don't Cry is a devastating exploration of the high cost of individuality in an intolerant society. Fox's Blu-ray release presents only a modest upgrade from DVD, but if you don't yet own the film, this is definitely the version you'll want to get. Highly recommended!
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