The Slaughter Rule

The Slaughter Rule is a 2002 independent film directed by Alex Smith and Andrew J. Smith and starring Ryan Gosling and David Morse. The film, set in contemporary Montana, explores the relationship between a small-town high school football player (Gosling), and his troubled coach (Morse). The film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival.

The Slaughter Rule
Movie poster
Directed byAlex Smith and Andrew J. Smith
Written byAlex Smith and Andrew J. Smith
StarringRyan Gosling
David Morse
Edited byBrent White
Distributed byAnnabel McConnachie
Release date
  • 2002 (2002)
Running time
112 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$500,000 (est.)[1]
Box office$13,134[1]


A teenager at a personal crossroads finds himself questioning the things that have given his life meaning in this independent coming-of-age drama. Roy Chutney (Ryan Gosling) is a high school senior in the fictional Montana town of Blue Springs. Roy does not have an especially close relationship with his mother Evangelline (Kelly Lynch), and he has not seen his father in years. That does not prevent Roy from feeling emotionally devastated when he learns that his father has killed himself, and Roy's self-esteem takes a beating when he is cut from the high school football team shortly afterward. Roy whiles away his time by swilling beer with his best friend, Tracy Two Dogs (Eddie Spears), and falling into a romance with Skyla (Clea DuVall), a barmaid at a local tavern, but it seems that Roy's short time on the high school gridiron impressed Gideon Ferguson (David Morse), a local character who coaches an unsanctioned high school six man football team when he is not delivering newspapers or trying to score a gig singing country songs at nearby honky-tonks.

Gideon thinks that Roy has potential and asks him to join his team; encouraged by Gideon's belief in him, Roy agrees, and he persuades Tracy to tag along. While playing hardscrabble six-man football helps restore Roy's self-confidence, he finds it does not answer his questions about his future or his relationship with Skyla. When Gideon's overwhelming interest in Roy begins to lend credence to the rumors that Gideon is gay, Roy starts to wonder just why he was asked to join the team.


Jay Farrar, founder of the alternative country bands Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt, composed the film's musical score.[2][3] New songs were written and performed by Vic Chesnutt and Freakwater, and existing songs by Ryan Adams, Uncle Tupelo, and the Pernice Brothers were also included.[3]

Filming for the movie largely took place in Great Falls, Montana and a series of small towns in the Great Falls vicinity.[4]

The title of the film comes from the term "slaughter rule." The unofficial rule provides for an athletic competition's premature conclusion if one team is ahead of the other by a certain number of points prior to game's end. The rule helps to avoid humiliating the losing team further.[5]



The film premiered in January 2002 during the Sundance Film Festival. Later that year the film entered the South by Southwest Film Festival, Athens Film Festival and AFI Film Festival.[6] It went into limited release in January 2003.

Critical reception

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 74% based on 31 reviews, and an average rating of 5.9/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "A bleak but original indie, The Slaughter Rule benefits from outstanding performances by Ryan Gosling and David Morse."[7] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 65 out of 100, based on 13 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[8]

The film has received mixed reviews. While the performances by Morse and Gosling were generally received positively, some reviews of the film criticized the script and the film itself. For example, reviewing the film for The New York Times, Stephen Holden praised the performances of Gosling and Morse but opined that the film is "confused" and "doesn't have much dramatic momentum".[9] Manohla Dargis, in her review for the Los Angeles Times, praised the film's cinematography but wrote that although the film has the virtue of sincerity, the story is "over-explained".[10] Joe Leydon of Variety claimed the script "plays like a first draft".[11] However, Marjorie Baumgarten of The Austin Chronicle thought that the "writing and directing team of twin brothers Alex and Andrew Smith have made an astonishingly good first feature".[12]J. R. Jones, writing in Chicago Reader, described the film as "powerful" and especially praised David Morse's performance.[13]


The film received the FIPRESCI Prize in the 2002 Stockholm Film Festival as well as the Milagro Award in the 2002 Santa Fe Film Festival. The film was also nominated for the John Cassavetes Award in the 2003 Film Independent Spirit Awards and the Grand Jury Prize in the 2002 Sundance Film Festival.[14]

Box office

During the first three months of 2003 the film grossed $13,134 in the United States.[15]


  1. "The Slaughter Rule (2002)". IMDB. Retrieved 2 June 2017.
  2. Fox, Pamela; Ching, Barbara (2008). Old Roots, New Routes: The Cultural Politics of Alt.Country Music. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press. p. 238. ISBN 9780472070534.
  3. Wachter, Karl (April 2003). "Reviews: 'The Slaughter Rule'". CMJ New Music Monthly. p. 68.
  4. Inbody, Kristen (December 29, 2016). "'Shot in Montana': Big Sky Cinema is scope of new book". USA Today. Retrieved May 2, 2017; Douglas, Patrick (March 18, 2016). "Does Great Falls have a Hollywood Boulevard?". Great Falls Tribune. Retrieved May 2, 2017.
  5. Holden, Stephen (March 29, 2002). "On or Off the Field, Rough, Raw and Twangy". The New York Times. Retrieved May 7, 2017.
  6. "The Slaughter Rule - Release Info". IMDB.
  7. "The Slaughter Rule (2002)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved March 6, 2018.
  8. "The Slaughter Rule Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved March 6, 2018.
  9. Holden, Stephen (January 5, 2003). "FILM FESTIVAL REVIEWS; On or Off the Field, Rough, Raw and Twangy". The New York Times. Retrieved June 2, 2017.
  10. Dargis, Manohla. "'Slaughter Rule' tosses metaphors like passes". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 2, 2017.
  11. Leydon, Joe (February 4, 2002). "Review: 'The Slaughter Rule'". Variety. Retrieved June 2, 2017.
  12. Baumgarten, Marjorie (March 8, 2002). "THE SLAUGHTER RULE". Austin Chronicle. Retrieved June 2, 2017.
  13. Jones, J. R. (January 23, 2003). "The Slaughter Rule". Chicago Reader. Retrieved June 2, 2017.
  14. "The Slaughter Rule - Awards". IMDB. Retrieved June 2, 2017.
  15. "The Slaughter Rule - Box Office". IMDB.
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