1969. For many, the sexual revolution was in full swing, while the government worked to repress minorities. With the repression came misunderstanding, affecting everyday families and people. In New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood, the gay community fought back against the Establishment at the Stonewall Bar, serving as the backdrop for Roland Emmerich’s Stonewall.
Fresh off the bus, the boy-next-door type, Danny Winters (Jeremy Irvine) finds himself right in the middle of all the action. Here he meets a bevvy of characters including Ray/Ramona (Penny Dreadful‘s Jonny Beauchamp) and Orphan Annie (X-Men: First Class‘s Caleb Landry Jones). They quickly take Danny in, giving him a taste of life on the streets, hanging out at the Stonewall. There, Danny meets Trevor (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who ignites Danny’s lust to find his voice. Ron Perlman and Matt Craven round out a strong supporting cast.
Jon Robin Baitz’s screenplay uses the Stonewall riots as a focal point to rally us to Danny’s plight, interweaving flashbacks to his life in rural Indiana. While effective in explaining Danny’s emotional state, it belabors the point of the movie, dragging it toward its logical conclusion. Adam Wolfe’s editing helps pick up the pace just a bit, but cannot compensate for it. Despite the pacing issues, the story is quite good.
The movie felt very much like a stage play: one dimensional sets and two dimensional acting, but it did not hinder Emmerich’s strong visual story, which cinematographer Markus Förderer handles effectively. The highlight of the movie comes from key technical areas including Simonetta Mariano’s costume design, Michele Laliberte’s production design and Vincent Gingras-Liberali’s art direction. They all vividly recreated the look and feel of New York City in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.
As a movie, Stonewall is ineffective at conveying its story simply. As a record for a watershed moment in the history of humanity, more specifically, gay rights, it succeeds. The movie may not be directly about Stonewall, but it reminds us that no matter who we are, we are all still human beings, we all deserve respect, and to the unsung heroes of Stonewall, their efforts have not gone unnoticed. To Roland Emmerich, thank you for having the courage to tell this story.