Movie Review - Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine

Matt Shepard and Michele Josue in
'Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine'
Matthew Shepard died on October 12, 1998, at the age of 21. He was beaten to death and left tied to a fence in a desert field in Laramie, Wyoming. The two men who killed him did so because Shepard was gay. A decade later, President Barack Obama signed into law the Matt Shepard Act of 2009. The full title is the Matt Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Byrd was a black man killed the same year as Shepard simply because he was black. The law is meant to protect minorities like black or gay people from these kinds of murders.

This documentary culminates in the signing of that law, but the movie isn't really about the passage or the intricacies of it. This documentary goes beyond simple acknowledgement and delves deep into understanding of who this young man was and relating the details of his too brief life.

Directed and edited by Michele Josue, the movie immediately reveals that Josue was, as the title suggests, a friend of Shepard. She knew and loved him. This movie is clearly in tribute to him and Josue does a great job of gathering everything about him, photos and home videos, boxes and boxes of his personal belongings, including Shepard's diary. She also gathers everyone who ever knew him to speak on camera with the exception of Shepard's brother, "Logan."

Of course, Shepard is praised to high heaven. Everyone describes him as a people-person, the center of crowds with lots of friends and a veritable saint. He was well-traveled, having been to Saudi Arabia, Italy, Japan and Morocco. What's interesting though is the revelation that the attack, which ultimately killed Shepard, was not the first time that he was brutalized.

Josue is able to evoke plenty of pathos and tears diving into Shepard's final moments where he lay near death in a hospital bed. She does genuinely address those final moments with Shepard's parents and it's absolutely heart-breaking, but a less emotionally-manipulative scene comes when Josue talks to the priest who met with Shepard's killers.

The priest calls for a kind of compassion for those killers, which sends Josue reeling. It leads to an act of compassion that isn't new for those of strong Christian faith, but it's a great contradiction to see Josue have difficulty with it. Josue doesn't really reveal too much about herself, but her meeting with the priest is an eye-opener about her and for her.

Four Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but recommended for mature audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 28 mins.
Opens in select cities - February 6 in New York City.
Opens February 13 in Los Angeles.


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