Cinema Signal:

The Voice at the Back Door
(Voices of the South)

. "The Badge"

Why someone thought this film wasn't good enough for a theatrical release is beyond me. Its excellent cast and quiet, strong dramatic structure create an utterly fascinating and engrossing tale of small town political corruption and murder. What's more, its eminent cast in both leads and supporting players are at the top of their form with character portrayals perfectly suited to their style and gifts.

Political corruption in small Southern towns is no surprise -- it'd be one if there weren't any. Sheriff Darl's (Billy Bob Thornton) town is not the exception and some of what's wrong is his own corrupt manner of applying the law. Such as when a truck overturns and he distributes the contents of it to his pals and cronies in town. And, he does this even after his deputy finds the body of the woman whose streak across the highway caused the accident.

Is this laid-back and countrified, or what? Imagine the perplexity of local forensic personnel when it's discovered that the dead person isn't so clearly a woman but a transgender individual with great beauty primarily of the feminine variety. Well Darl, as we've seen, runs his office as he sees fit and keeping higher branches of law out of local matters is just his style. But, when another beautiful woman with the name of Scarlett no less, (Patricia Arquette) shows up in his office looking for her "husband", who turns out to be the dead transgender person, Darl's not especially anxious to bring his shortcomings to the attention of outside agencies. His vow to investigate is little more than a pretext to let it all just die down.

But, not so fast. When the judge, the state governor and other powerful people threaten Darl's reelection with a trumped up transgression, and when he finds out that the transgender person performed at their little party just before getting shot, Darl turns up the investigation a bit, seeking some revenge for being set up. That he's unhappily divorced from the local district attorney Carla (Sela Ward) and has an estranged gay brother running a sex shop video store in New Orleans adds colorful complexities to this steadily fascinating character piece with a pace to match the style of the good ol' boy community it describes.

The downside is the difficulty some people will have in caring much about such a knee-jerk homophobe and racist. But the picture is, in part, about some big transformations he has to make in his lifelong prejudices. And, that he has to make them through unavoidable exposure to the sort of life styles he has always denigrated, makes his journey a compelling piece of storytelling.

William Devane, as the local judge who pretty nearly always gets his way when politics are involved, leads the troupe of supporting players performing at their best.

This is a DVD that fits into a classic drama category. If you go for such subject matter and appreciate movie making that excels technically and holds you dramatically, you'll want it on your shelf in a Hollywood minute. Don't hold back. Buy it for a first run experience.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Patricia Arquette and Billy Bob Thornton
racing through the streets of the Big Easy

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