Rated R , for violence including an intensely brutal rape scene, sexuality, language and drug use
Directed by Kimberly Peirce
The film introduces us to Teena in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1993, after her decision to disguise herself as a man. With her hair in a crew-cut, her chest strapped and a confident swagger in her step, "Brandon" looks uncannily like an adolescent boy and is so kind towards the women she dates that such tell-tale signs as her stubble-free face and her delicate hands go mostly undetected. "They say I'm the best boyfriend they ever had," Brandon brags to a pal.
But when this dreamy guy is revealed to be female, opinions change quickly and Brandon flees Lincoln to hide out in the small Nebraska town of Falls City. There she falls in with ex-cons John (Peter Sarsgaard) and Tom (Brendan Sexton III), neither of whom suspect there's anything unusual about him, perhaps because they're usually too drunk or stoned to pay much attention to anything. "People like you don't need drugs," Tom laughs as he observes Brandon's urgent desire to fit in with the kids in Falls City. "You just hallucinate 24 hours a day."
Brandon also attracts the attention of John's former flame Lana (Chloe Sevigny), the kind of girl who seems to have developed a bulletproof shell around her heart while still in her teens. Lana, whose life appears to consist of partying, working on the line in a cannery and cleaning up after her slovenly mom, finds herself gradually opening up to the new boy in town. Eventually, their relationship will have ghastly consequences.
The movie would have fallen flat if we didn't believe in Brandon's masquerade and kept waiting for the moment when her true identity would be uncovered. Swank immerses herself so completely in the character, however, that it's entirely possible to forget you're watching a woman pass herself off as a man. Peirce assists the illusion by setting most of the story in poorly-lit bars, shadowy living rooms and dark backroads and alleyways.
Reportedly, Drew Barrymore was anxious to tackle a different project about Brandon, one which has since been shut down. That's probably all for the best, since Barrymore is so easily identifiable she would have had an extremely difficult time convincing an audience she was anything more than a renowned movie star attempting a cross-dressing stunt. Swank, on the other hand, doesn't have to deal with nearly as many preconceptions (unless you're one of the dozen or so filmgoers who saw her in "The Karate Kid, Part 4" and slips easily into the crowd.
Although Swank's phenomenal performance is unquestionably the centerpiece of the film, Peirce gets outstanding work from just about everyone in her cast. In Sevigny's tortured eyes and rocky voice we learn everything we need to know about Lana's background and, perhaps, her future. When Lana naively talks about running away with Brandon and making a career for herself as a karaoke singer, Sevigny allows us a brief glimpse of the desperation and need for escape that Lana learned long ago to suppress.
Sexton, looking like a walking bruise, and Sarsgaard are chilling as good old boys who are always a breath away from turning into mindless, raging monsters. The acting is so electrifying it lends the picture the kind of punch usually found only in documentaries. Especially in its last half-hour, "Boys Don't Cry" is often extraordinarily tough to watch -- much in the same way the truth can be difficult to face.