Posted by Joel Copling on September 26, 2015

"Stonewall" tells of the titular historical event within a five-minute stretch of the film's more-than-two hours, and that, above all, seems circumstantial evidence toward its status as lazy, tabloid journalism (Indeed, a controversy sprang into existence upon the release of the film's trailer that it downplayed much of the truth; this review is not the place to find fodder for such a conversation, but it's not hard to see why the conversation exists after viewing the film itself). It also undeniably contains sequences that capture the realities of the LGBT community at the start of the 1970s. The movement was in response to brutal behavior of naive, entitled people who feared their traditions were being stolen from them.

The most effective elements of Jon Robin Baitz's screenplay are the ones where any viewer (with a conscience) easily and firmly finds himself in sympathy with the marginalized and outcasted segment of society that began to publicize their affection for those of the same gender. Police brutalize them (in one, particularly vicious scene that finds our protagonist the victim), crooks play their own tricks against the ones who must live on the street and occupy the only job they can find (You know the one--it's the oldest around), and the revolution happens, first behind the closed doors of suburban neighborhoods, then within the seclusion of mafia-owned gay bars.

As a living example of someone who has the former background, Danny Winters (Jeremy Irvine) knows this only too well. The son of traditional parents who force him out of the home when he is caught with a fellow male student (and brother to a progressive, sympathetic sister played with both attributes by Joey King), Danny flees from the farmhouses of Kansas to the brothels of New York amid a turbulent political scene that sees homosexuality as both mental illness and criminal act. Partnering up with a group of street-dwellers (headed by Jonny Beauchamp in the highlight performance of the cast as Ray, who becomes a good friend to Danny, although guess how Ray feels) and a pair of activists (played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Ron Perlman in order of increasing radicalism), Danny learns the neighborhood is about to get a lot louder as law enforcement closes in.

There is good stuff to be found in "Stonewall," but it's in the way Baitz and director Roland Emmerich (usually a purveyor of destructive blockbusters and here out of his element completely) treats everything as dinner theater that shortchanges the film's intended effect. Certain scenes have power (the aforementioned beatdown from a pair of homophobic policemen, a scene when Ray recovers from a similar attack by a different crowd, the final scenes involving Danny's familial turmoil), but the riots themselves hold very little (the use of slo-mo, in particular, reminding us why it's dramatically unnecessary) and the film's view of traditionalism is often merely comical ("I still don't get it," says one girl early on, and that's after her boyfriend pretty graphically describes a certain sexual act). This is a pivotal story reduced to melodramatic poses.

Film Information

Jeremy Irvine (Danny Winters), Jonny Beauchamp (Ray/Ramona), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Trevor), Ron Perlman (Ed Murphy), Joey King (Phoebe), Caleb Landry Jones (Orphan Annie), Matt Craven (Dep. Seymour Pine), Atticus Dean Mitchell (Matt), Otoja Abit (Marsha P. Johnson), Mark Camacho (Fat Tony), Joanne Vannicola (Sam), Yan England (Terry), Arthur Holden (Frank Kameny), Ben Sullivan (Quiet Paul), Veronika Vernadskaya (Marianne Winters), Karl Glusman (Joe Altman), Andrea Frankle (Joyce Winters).

Directed by Roland Emmerich and written by Jon Robin Baitz.

Rated R (sexual content, language throughout, violence, drug use).

129 minutes.

Released in select cities on September 25, 2015.