Thornton's homophobic character (Darl Hardwick), following in the footsteps of his father, Bull, (Tom Bower), wears the badge of sheriff in the LeSalle parish in Louisiana.
In addition to his hard-drinking father, Darl's family consists of: estranged wife, Carla (Sela Ward) [in what may be one of the most bizarre casting decisions ever made], who just happens to be the local district attorney; daughter Ashley (Jena Malone); and brother David (Thomas Hayden Church), ran out of the parish by Billy Bob. LeSalle is populated by sharply drawn characters that embody all that is the deep south: Sister Felicia (Julie Haggarty); corrupt Judge Pendergast (William Devane); Ornell, the owner of a gas station with a pay phone in front; and once again Billy Bob's friend from Arkansas, Rick Dial, appears in the character of Doc, local M.E. of sorts.
As a small-town sheriff fighting big-time crooked politics, so prevalent in deep south, as well as his own dissolving reputation and narrow-minded bigotry, Hardwick becomes entangled in solving the case of the death of a transsexual, Mona, from New Orleans. Murdered in the swamps of his jurisdiction, embracing a life-style that he loathes, and carrying baggage of her own, as well as a Jesus tattoo, Mona in death becomes the leader of Hardwick's journey through the colorful streets of New Orleans, the gaudy transvestite clubs, and into the company of a stripper called Scarlett (Patricia Arquette).
As the investigation continues, the entanglements of dirty politicians, the untangling of years-old family conflicts, and a clearer understanding of those who populate the sex-conflicted world of the victim, the Sheriff finds more than the killer. He finds within himself a kinder man. A man who can not only accept others as they are, but a man who has a better understanding of himself as well.
Dithering about the main plot there is; shoe-thievery, a 'born-again' fighting again the impending construction of a local casino (assisted by the Sheriff's father armed with a shotgun and decked out in Indian head-dress), the loss of the sheriff's sunglasses, and other local small town intrigues and interactions.
This film richly populated with interesting and vivid characters presents a whodunit (the resolution of which isn't all that easy to see coming), and treats us to great Louisiana music and local New Orleans scenery. As always, Billy Bob Thornton 'becomes' his character. He settles into the sheriff's uniform, and the less than admirable psyche of his character as if he were born there, and then every so subtly unveils the changed man. All made to look so easy we each think we could be actors ourselves.
If you're a Billy Bob Thornton or Patricia Arquette fan, or you just enjoy a good murder mystery with atmosphere so thick you can feel the suck of the swamp, you will want to get a copy of this DVD as soon as it is released.
I consider Billy Bob Thornton a fine actor. His presence alone brings up the quality of this film and the theme was a bit thought provoking. I could never consider this a work of art but I enjoyed the experience of watching it.
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