Pin a Gold Star on 'Badge'

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A great cinematic look and a script infused with humor lifts Starz's standard whodunit The Badge
from ho-hum to eminently watchable.

Its intriguing cast is topped by Billy Bob Thornton and Patricia Arquette. Sela Ward, Jena Malone, Julie Hagerty, Thomas Hayden Church and William Devane are also on hand, though only Devane gets much screen time. Even though he plays the local parish political fixer and is key to the story, he's very distracting with an accent that's bayou by way of God knows where.

Apparently, The Badge
was filmed on the heels of Thornton's Monster's Ball
and carries some of the flavor of that film, but without the grit. There are also nods to The Big Easy
and Blue Velvet.

The movie gets off to a great start: a crane takes wing on an indigo night, disturbed by a flash of red as a distressed woman dashes through a swamp and onto a highway, where a semi driver locks up his brakes and flips the rig to avoid hitting her. Okay, got my attention!

Thornton is Darl Hardwick, a sheriff in LaSalle Parish, La. He's sexually open to women other than his wife but closed off when it comes to lifestyles other than his own. Rising above that foible will make him a better man over the course of the movie.

But it is his other chief ignorance that may get him killed. He's investigating the murder of an out-of-town gal who turns out to be a transsexual. Local pols don't see the value in devoting police time to justice for a person they consider a freak. But Darl finds himself attracted to the victim's life partner, a stripper named Scarlet (Arquette).

Darl lacks the Machiavellian thought processes to necessary to stay one jump ahead of the political machine. After he learns that local insiders intend to oust him from their coattails he realizes he may lose the one thing he was sure of — his badge. Only then does it dawn on him that justice for the victim has more value than bowing to the party line.

The Badge
debuts Sept. 7 at 8 p.m. ET.