Sometimes there is truth in old adages like “the right man for the job.” It’s never fair to pigeonhole a filmmaker into a particular genre, but if you are going to make a movie about the Stonewall Riots, a moment that proved to be the catalyst for the gay rights movement in America, Roland Emmerich is probably not the right man for the job.
Emmerich, who is known for directing subtle think-pieces like “The Day After Tomorrow,” “2012” and “Independence Day,” is a bit out of his depth with “Stonewall.”
The guy is capable of painting in broad strokes, as he totally nails the late 1960s New York City vibe, but there is absolutely no nuance here.
The crucial mistake he makes is while historically accurate characters flit around in the margins, the heart of the story is built around entirely fictional characters who are credited with being the driving force behind the riots.
It is one thing to “Titanic” a story where a historical event serves as a film’s backdrop for your made-up characters, it’s quite another to have DiCaprio grab the wheel and steer the ship into an iceberg.
The focus of the story is Danny Winters (Jeremy Irvine), a refugee from a small town in Iowa, shunned by his friends and family for being gay. Danny comes to New York City with nothing more but an acceptance letter to Columbia in his pocket when he is befriended by a group of street hustlers, who are mostly just ciphers of every homosexual stereotype in the book.
The exception is Ray (Jonny Beauchamp, who delivers the best performance in the film), whose tumultuous friendship with Danny forms what I guess you would call the heart of the story.
Most of the rest of the movie focuses on the tribulations of being gay in 1969, as Danny has to suffer through the indignities of turning tricks, getting beaten by the cops, and falling under the romantic influence of an older gay rights activist (played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers).
The riots at the titular Stonewall Inn (a bar owned by the mafia that was regularly raided by the police because at the time it was illegal for homosexuals to congregate and be served drinks) are crammed into the last 10 minutes of the movie and the details are more than a little fuzzy.
Without question, “Stonewall” is a movie that has its heart in the right place. I don’t think for a second that everyone involved with this film didn’t give their absolute all to honor the spirit and the memory of those who stood up for their rights on that fateful night.
But you can just feel this movie is lacking, especially when you compare it to the heft of movies like “Milk” and “Pride,” which dealt with similar subject matter.
The Stonewall Riots deserved a better movie and, unfortunately, Emmerich was not the guy who was going to deliver it.
“Stonewall” is rated R for sexual content, language throughout, some violence, and drug use.