(2002)1.5Brian J. DillardIt was a given that this standard-issue movie of the week would fail to live up to The Laramie Project, the innovative HBO film inspired by the same events. Even so, it's something of an accomplishment that The Matthew Shepard Story is so darn bad. Filled with the sort of pat parallels and slick sanctimony endemic to the genre, the script smooths over the messier details of its subject's life, such as his HIV status, in favor of stagy sentimentality and political correctness. Meanwhile, director Roger Spottiswoode films both gay-bar flashbacks and the beating itself in the same shrill slow motion, as if one somehow led to the other. As the slain student's parents, an uncharacteristically somnambulant Stockard Channing and a typically smug Sam Waterson wander through an agonizing array of hackneyed scenes. Sifting through the slain Matthew's mementos, hanging with his lesbian pal, and coming to terms with their abiding guilt, their characters hit every prescribed emotional cue. In the worst sequence, an indignant Waterson barks: "It isn't a joke! It's a little piece of hate, shot like an arrow. My God, how did this kid do it? How many arrows struck him every day?" As if that weren't bad enough, there is also a running theme about Shepard always having been one of the angels. The wonderful thing about The Laramie Project was that it didn't try to transform the guy into a saint as well as the martyr he'd already become. But as Waterson delivers Dennis Shepard's fateful anti-death penalty speech as if it were a particularly passionate closing argument on Law & Order, the film's propagandistic nature stands fully revealed. Reducing the complex debate about hate crimes into a few expert tugs of the old heartstrings, The Matthew Shepard Story is about as manipulative as TV movies get.
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