The Badge (2002)
“A small town sheriff. A big city murderer.”
Director: Robby Henson
Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Patricia Arquette, William Devane
Synopsis: A sheriff (Thornton) begins an investigation into the death of a local transsexual after hearing that high ranking politicians may have been involved.
The Badge is not a film without flaws, but it has some good things about it which throw into question exactly why it failed to get a distribution deal in the States (especially when you consider the cast writer/director Robby Henson managed to assemble).
I particularly liked the character of Sheriff Darl Hardwick, who is played almost flawlessly by Billy Bob Thornton. Hardwick is a deeply flawed man: a hard-drinking, morally questionable homophobe whose philandering has destroyed his family and will, in the course of the film, scupper his chances of re-election as sheriff of a Louisiana town. In many writers’ hands Hardwick would be a deeply dislikeable man, but Henson manages to use these character flaws to give depth to Hardwick without demonising him. For all his flaws he’s quite a likable guy — it’s just his moral compass has gone a little haywire. Thornton — whose features should really have typecast him as a bad guy by now — is perfect casting for the role, and there is no evidence of the fact that he and director Henson repeatedly clashed on set.
The murder of a transsexual triggers an odyssey of revelation/redemption for Hardwick that isn’t entirely believable and isn’t really satisfactorily resolved, but which provides an absorbing tale nonetheless. It’s really just a device to get us under the skin of the principal character, but it has to be said it is a fairly unique murder mystery. The resolution is almost irrelevant, an incidental development designed merely to tie loose strands. Where Henson does go astray — and it seems to be a common flaw in Hollywood pictures in which sexual identity plays a part — is that practically all the straight men are presented as corrupt or tarnished in some way, and if they’re not they’re victims of those who are (e.g. Hardwick’s deputy). While this gender stereotyping isn’t quite as in your face as it is in, say, Philadelphia, it’s still too noticeable to present an unbiased picture. Perhaps that’s why I liked the way Hardwick is depicted: the script takes time enough to get under his skin and reveal that he isn’t a bad man — he’s a fundamentally decent man with prejudices (which, let’s face it, most of us are whether we like to admit it or not).