Picks and Pans Review: Boys Don't Cry

updated 10/18/1999 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/18/1999 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Hilary Swank, Chloƫ Sevigny

Unlike American Beauty, that poeticized fantasy about emotional upheaval in the quietly desperate suburbs, Boys Don't Cry is a raw, true tale about the hatred lying beneath the surface of daily life. Teena Brandon was only 21 when she was raped and, a matter of days later, shot dead in a town south of Lincoln, Neb. Her crime: She wanted to be a man. Calling herself Brandon Teena, she flattened her breasts beneath surgical bandages, inserted stuffing into the crotch of her jeans and passed herself off as a boy among a small group of hard-drinking friends. She was found out and, like an enemy target detected by radar, destroyed.

Directed by Kimberly Peirce, Boys Don't Cry boasts a flawless performance by Swank (The Next Karate Kid) in the main role. The film has a sinewy tautness and, in its brutal ending, a visceral power. Teena can articulate her longing to change sexes, but the others, filled with fear and revulsion when they learn the truth, can only strike out wildly. The two men who rape her afterward call her "little dude," almost affectionately. They seem to have no more self-awareness than dogs. (R)

Bottom Line: Wrenching, tragic tale of a misunderstood outsider

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