Saturday, April 2, 2011

Billy Jack (1971)

Billy Jack

Written by Tom Laughlin & Delores Taylor
Directed by Tom Laughlin

Billy Jack...Tom Laughlin
Jean...Delores Taylor
Barbara...Julie Webb
Sheriff Cole...Clark Howat
Martin...Stan Rice

"All any of the townspeople knew about Billy Jack was that he was a halfbreed, a war hero who hated the war and turned his back on society by returning to the reservation, where he watched over the Indians, the wild horses, and the kids at my school.  No one even knew where he lived, somewhere way back in the ancient ruins with an old holy man who was teaching him secret Indian ways, and preparing him for a sacred initiation ceremony."
Billy Jack is back, a few short years following the events depicted in Born Losers.  This time around, Billy is much more in touch with his Native American heritage, on his way to being a mystical badass instead of your garden variety type.

The tension between the close-minded locals and the students of the Freedom School--an alternative education facility for wayward youths--has been building for years, but it finally boils over when Billy Jack is tasked with hiding the prodigal son...err, daughter...of the town's abusive deputy.

Violence erupts on more than one occasion, but it builds in intensity with each appearance.  It doesn't take long before it turns into a full-fledged war, Billy Jack vs. The World.  Or, at least, that's what it must seem like to him.  He's surrounded by hippies and pacifists, those who are unwilling and unable to stand up for themselves, and so he has to do it for them.  Even if it means dying to get it done.

As stated in my review of the previous film, Billy Jack has a great propensity for violence...but that doesn't mean that he is fond of it.  He would rather just be left alone to live his life, but the violent life keeps calling him, appearing right on his doorstep.  He is a halfbreed in more than just race--he is halfway between the warrior of his Native American guru, and the pacifist of his Freedom School disciples.  He understands that violence isn't always the answer, but sometimes you must fight for what you believe in.

This is why some critics fail to understand this film:  They see it as using violence as an end to violence.  A walking contradiction, of sorts.  And they're right.  But that's the whole point of the movie, I think.  That you have to be willing to fight when it's needed if you want to be able to enjoy the peace when it is not.  It's a gray area, one whose boundaries cannot be clearly defined.  I imagine that's why Billy Jack is so torn as an individual.

The social and political commentary has been upped this time around.  In the grand scheme of things, Billy Jack is a more important film than Born Losers, and the soundtrack is filled with grassroots protest songs that match the spirit of the movie perfectly, including an amazing performance by a young girl whose talent belies her age.

All that being said--and I'm probably in the minority here--I enjoyed Born Losers much more than Billy Jack.  The pacing here was dreadful at times, starting and stopping at the drop of a hat, the storyline being interrupted every twenty minutes or so for an improvised scene performed by the Freedom School students that ran on for far too long and became VERY tedious VERY quickly.  Every time that Billy Jack was on camera, the movie was dead on, but for a film called Billy Jack, there were far too many instances where Billy Jack was nowhere to be found.

Overall, an enjoyable if somewhat bloated and occasionally self-important classic.  Recommended for fans of counter-culture cinema, and anyone who knows what I know: that Billy Jack is one of the coolest cats to ever grace the silver screen.

Rated PG
114 Minutes
United States

"When policeman break the law, then there isn't any law.  Just the fight for survival."

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