From its evocative title onward, The Slaughter Rule is an intricate and moving drama enhanced by exceptional performances. Accomplished character actor David Morse (Dancer in the Dark) brings subtle power to a dauntingly complex role as Gideon, who has a genuine desire to bring out the best in his team of cast-off boys. But this desire is tied into his more selfish, darker needs. Ryan Gosling, who had a manic edginess as a Jewish neo-Nazi in Henry Bean's The Believer, shows some range here playing Roy Chutney, a character whose violence and anger simmer beneath a calm, passive surface. Roy's resentment of his absent, now deceased father is evident, put across by the sharp script. When Skyla (Clea DuVall) runs into Roy sometime after the funeral, she apologizes to him: "I keep forgetting Mr. Chutney was your father." Gosling practically throws away Roy's sardonic response: "He kept forgetting, too." Set during the white glare and unforgiving winter in Montana, amid desperate people, The Slaughter Rule probes deeper into the complex nature of bonds between men than typical sports movies. The volatile friendships between Roy and Tracy Two Dogs (Eddie Spears) (who has his own father issues), and Gideon and his dependent buddy, Studebaker (well-played by New York City performance artist David Cale), are the aching heart of the film. These are men in various stages of life, striving to connect with others, but doomed by their own reliance on macho self-reliance, unconsciously expressed in coach Gideon's football credo, "Don't get hurt -- give hurt." Gosling is a young actor with heat, and he's made some very interesting career choices. Filmmakers Andrew J. Smith and Alex Smith deserve tremendous credit for their honest and thoughtful feature debut.