As someone who watches a lot of true movies I have long been aware of the movie "The Matthew Shepard Story" but being a Brit was unaware of the details of the true story it was based on. Having now watched this movie I can understand why it was made because it is a story which needs to be made, in fact it is two stories, the story of Matthew Shepard and the story of his parents. Now it is a powerful story which deals with homosexuality, homosexual injustice and parents dealing with their emotions following the murder of their son and director Roger Spottiswoode has done a good job of getting all of this across. But to its credit "The Matthew Shepard Story" is not just some sappy, cheesy movie, it has a different style which might not suit those who purposefully seek it out because it is a TV movie.
Now "The Matthew Shepard Story" starts on the night that Matthew Shepard is taken to an isolated place and murdered which is followed by the police discovering his body the next day. What follows is a story presented from various angles and they all interweave to paint a complete picture. It starts a year after as the trial over Matthew's murder is taking place and his parents Judy and Dennis, played by Stockard Channing and Sam Waterston, are on the verge of getting what they want, the death penalty for Aaron McKinney for their son's murder. But as this plays out not only do we have flashbacks of Matthew's life but we also watch as Judy begins to wonder whether wanting the death penalty is the right thing.
But as I said we also have the flashback of Matthew's life and this takes us through his dealing with being homosexual and the abuse he suffered, from verbal abuse to also physical abuse. We watch at times he loathes what he is because of how others treat him but also how innocent he was, just a good kid trying to lead his life. Whilst this is going on we also see how his parents are supportive, never treating him any different but also having to deal with this new world which at times is alien to them.
All of these things as well as other stories and some unsettling incidents combine to paint this multi angled storyline, if you like a before and after of the life of Matthew Shepard which gives the audience an understanding rather than a retelling. But the thing about "The Matthew Shepard Story" is that whilst a made for TV movie it has a very different style to most TV movies. It isn't sweet, it isn't rose tinted and whilst for the most not graphic is still surprisingly gritty without being preachy. This at times almost raw style isn't going to be for everyone and took some getting use to but it is worth persevering with if initially you find it hard going because as the interweaving storylines start forming the more interesting it becomes, connecting with you on a real level.
As for the acting well it is simply good from start to finish with Stockard Channing and Sam Waterston both delivering the complexity of their feelings as they face the trial and the decision over to whether to go for the death penalty. But then Shane Meier is just as good as Matthew and gets across not only his innocence but also his own anger at who he was, how he was treated and how it left him fragile. There are other good performances as well which all combine to deliver the drama without ever over playing the characters.
What this all boils down to is that "The Matthew Shepard Story" is a very good movie and much better than your normal made for TV movie which tells a true story. Its different styling won't be for everyone but it is worth persisting with because the strength of the writing and the power of the story wins over.