The Laramie Project (2001) Review
(More customer reviews)Perhaps you have to have some prior knowledge of the subject matter of this film in order to properly appreciate it. ... I don't think so, but maybe I'm wrong. As a person, a human being, hearing the words of actual human beings who are trying to sort through their feelings after a tragedy, I would have been moved had I known nothing of the death of Matthew Shepard (as it is, I knew very little before viewing this movie).
What initially attracted me to this film was the fact that it was an HBO production, and I've seen several quality HBO productions in the past. I'd heard a little about the Matthew Shepard case, and I wanted to know more. So I saw the film.
First, this film isn't really a documentary-it's a dramatazation of interviews and conversations that members of a New York theatre troupe conducted with citizens of Laramie, Wyoming These interviews served as the basis for the play "The Laramie Project." It's a little distracting at first, because the film is shot in documentary-style and yet the people who are supposed to be citizens of the town are recognizable actors and actresses (such as Steve Buscemi and Christina Ricci). And I wondered how much of the dialogue was real and how much was fictional. But once I got over those concerns, I became engrossed in the story (after all, movies are fiction anyway). And what a story. For those who don't know, Matthew Shepard was a 21 year old college student who was brutally beaten and left for dead in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. The young men who attacked him were Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney. Shepard was in a coma for a week before he died on October 12, 1998. Shepard was [homosexual], and his killers claimed that he'd made passes at them, and so they decided to drive him to the edge of town, tie him up, and beat him. To teach him a lesson.
Whether Shepard learned his lesson or not is unknown, since he died soon after the attack. But the citizens of Laramie sure seem to be learning something, and they want to talk about it. The townspeople who were interviewed are a mix of [homosexual] residents, college professors, college students, and outraged citizens. The young man who found Matthew Shepard, the Police Officer who was the first on the scene, a friend of Shepard's named Romaine, and a local Catholic Priest are standouts. The emotions run the gamut from young people trying to reconcile what they've always been taught (that homosexuality is wrong) with the message that it's just another lifestyle choice, to others who believe that no one deserves to be beaten that way-but hey, Shepard shouldn't have been hitting on those young men...A local pastor prays that Shepard had time in the last moments of his life to repent and turn to Christ, a local Priest calls citizens together for a candlelight vigil, and all the while the members of the theatre troupe record the reactions of the townspeople as they themselves are touched and changed by what they see.
Here we have people talking, people yelling, people laughing, people crying. Everyone has been affected in one way or another by the tragedy, and what they say as they struggle to put their feelings into words (and the emotions that are so compellingly portrayed by the actors and actresses here) make for a startling portrayal of human emotion. The story is told not just through words but through music, through facial expressions, through moments of silence that no words can fill. Part character study, part "documentary," part "message film," "The Laramie Project" succeeds as excellent storytelling. In a word: Haunting. Apparently, it's not for everyone. But I don't see why not.
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In October 1998, 21 year-old Mathew Shepard was found savagely beaten, tied to a fence and left to die in Laramie, Wyoming. "The Laramie Project" is the portrait of a town painfully forced to confront itself in the reflective glare of the national spotlight, responding with love, anger, sympathy, support and defiance.