Boys Don't Cry unfolds like a Greek tragedy, almost beautiful in its inexorable path to disaster. Based on the true story of Teena Brandon (Hilary Swank), a 21-year old girl who successfully passed as a boy, the film is a gripping, devastating account of Brandon's impossible yearning to create a perfect world.
Brandon, as the protagonist calls himself, dresses as a boy only because he can't afford a sex-change operation. Swank gives a poignant, compelling performance that exposes the depth of Brandon's raw need to appear male, from the smile and swagger to a dangerous ride on the tailgate of a pickup truck.
As a boy, Brandon is sincere and gracious, a knight in a skinny body. The heady excitement of his first bar brawl, in defence of his new friend Candace (Alicia Gorenson), carries him to the hometown of Candace and her friends as he skips out of a required court appearance. There he falls in love with Lana (Chloe Sevigny), a sloe-eyed, bewitching girl who's initially involved with the volatile, charismatic John (Peter Sarsgaard). The lure of being Lana's lover and John's buddy blinds Brandon to the danger of his situation. Ignoring this crowd's rampant drug and alcohol abuse, casual violence and squalor, he sees a new family.
Director Kimberly Pierce creates a modern feel with hazy nighttime scenes and shots of clouds and sunlight speeding across the landscape. She often lets the camera linger eloquently on the actors just a moment after the action ends, for an extra punch. The stellar screenplay and acting, with Sevigny a standout in her convincing transformation from drugged-out sulky teenager to loyal friend, perfectly convey the white-trash community Brandon has discovered. You can almost taste the day-old beer and cigarettes as Brandon's fantasy life comes to a brutal end.