Aiming to both approximate and steadily subvert ’70s backslapping guys’ films like John Cassavetes’s Husbands, director Bette Gordon’s coming-out tale casts rugged-mug character actor Jamey Sheridan as Harry, a poker-faced electrician who’s forced to reckon with his past. After an old Navy buddy (Buscemi) begs for atonement from his death bed, Harry reaches out to other bygone pals, hoping to make sense of an act of homophobic violence perpetrated more than 30 years ago. Who cast the first stone at their gay comrade? And who, pray tell, actually dropped the soap?
Gordon (Variety) and screenwriter Nicholas Proferes couch their gender studies in forced aggression and slangy guy talk: being male means constantly calling each other “pussies,” self-medicating with saloon shots and punctuating conversations with punches to the face. “We became men together,” one character says. “It must count for something.” Unfortunately, Gordon asks that notion to count for everything without adding much to the conversation. Harry’s haunted by his own identity crisis, but that breakdown translates into nothing but smeary, slo-mo flashbacks. Forget about insight into the macho mind-set; such shorthand tricks are only there to manufacture a false sense of suspense—and help avoid the real drama of what happens after the truth comes out.