It’s depressing to think that there are institutions devoted to ‘converting’ homosexuals to heterosexuality. Worse, it is infuriating to learn that thirty-six states of the US allow for minors to be interned in such loathsome places. Not surprisingly, the underpinning ethos of many of these establishments goes hand in glove with interpretations of the Bible made by its feeble-minded, god-addled devotees. Written and directed by Joel Edgerton, this confronting, crusading movie is based on the true story of Garrard Conley, whose life was nearly ruined by corrective therapy. Marshall Eamons (Russell Crowe) is a car salesman and pastor in Arkansas. He and his doting wife Nancy (Nicole Kidman) sign up their son Jared (Lucas Hedges) for a sort of spiritual boot camp that they hope will save the boy from his sinful sexual leanings. Running the course is Victor Sykes (Edgerton), as bullying and bigoted in his attitude to those entrusted to his care as Eamons is blindly unaccepting of them. Sykes’s mission is to show the young sinners the error of their ways, though it seems barely credible that anybody could seriously align masculinity with the way a bloke stands – in one class, he tells one of the boys to not sit with his legs crossed. We are talking about Christians of the Mid-West, however (and Sydney’s arcane Anglicans?), so in a world becoming more polarised by the day, any idiocy is possible. Visually, the film is dimly lit – I wanted to adjust the brightness all the way through – and the pace is slow, but the performances are exact and the characters’ relationships and power plays thoroughly absorbing. Crowe perfectly understates his role, making it impossible to hate the father, despite his bone-headed piety, and Hodges (who was also the gay guy in Lady Bird) is especially impressive in the part of a young man struggling to understand exactly who he is, while flaxen-haired Troye Sivan, as fellow attendee Gary, delivers the best line when he advises Jared to ‘fake it till you make it’.
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