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Overall Rating

Awesome: 27.27%
Worth A Look: 9.09%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 27.27%

1 review, 16 user ratings

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Man Who Sued God, The
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by Andrew Howe

"Connolly calls the Almighty to account"
3 stars

The premise of the new Australian film The Man Who Sued God is so intriguing that it could probably top the box office on the strength of a plot synopsis alone. It’s one of those little Aussie comedies that used to represent our sole theatrical export, balancing lightweight froth with canny casting and meditative undertones.

The hero of the hour is Steve Myers (Billy Connolly), an ex-lawyer who turned his back on the trappings of success for a life on the ocean wave. When a bolt of lightning destroys his boat he fronts up to the insurance company clutching his comprehensive policy, only to be told that he’s out of luck because the disaster in question was an “Act of God”. Being the resourceful Scot that he is, he reasons that since God is responsible for his loss he’s entitled to sue the boat-scuttling deity, an action which sees him drag the Almighty’s earthly representatives into the dock. Aided and abetted by jaded, worn-out reporter Anna Redmond (Judy Davis), the bulk of the running time is devoted to Myers’ crusade and the effect it has on his family, the defendants and his own spiritual wellbeing.

Portraying insurance companies as the right hand of Satan will always get the audience onside, since anyone who has had a claim refused will be well aware of their money-grubbing, duplicitous tactics (though since I have no desire to join Myers in court, we’d better make that “alleged” money-grubbing, duplicitous tactics). On the other hand, poking fun at organised religion is always a risk, but the script’s generally respectful tone should see it spared the kind of protests that marred the release of Dogma and other supposedly blasphemous undertakings.

The downside to this softly-spoken approach is that, for a supposed comedy, the laughs are few and far between. Scriptwriter Don Watson doubtless realised at an early juncture that he was going to have difficulty stretching the basic concept into a ninety-minute feature, and his solution is to continually shift the focus to Myers’ relationships. This is just as well, since it’s patently obvious that he possesses little affinity for satire, preferring to plug the gaps with derivative set-pieces and ham-fisted attempts at whimsy.

The film therefore features its share of uninspired comic interludes – there’s a pratfall-laden scene in a restaurant that looks like it escaped from a Jerry Lewis revival, you can’t swing a censer without hitting another lazily-scripted stereotype, and Connolly proves that his facial contortions and memorable vocal delivery are wasted if the dialogue isn’t tailored to his strengths (check out one of his stand-up routines if you want to see where his comic talents lie).

However, as a light drama the film is considerably more successful. Connolly’s astonishing performance in The Debt Collector laid to rest any doubts about his ability to tackle dramatic roles, and he conspires to turn Myers into a suitably sympathetic individual. He’s not a hero in the traditional sense, since he’s heir to the faults and foibles that plague us all, but flawed crusaders are always more interesting than saintly martyrs. He has little interest in becoming a cause célèbre, since he’s only making waves to get what he perceives as his due, but over the course of the film he comes to realise that he’s involved in something which supersedes his own selfish desires, and his spiritual awakening is both plausible and unexpectedly satisfying.

Watson’s matter-of-fact approach to scripting Myers’s relationships is especially praiseworthy. The scenes with his ex-wife and daughter are exactly as they should be, replacing over-the-top emotion and heartfelt recriminations with weary resignation and the rueful affection which remains when relationships collapse without undue acrimony. Of particular note is Myers’s strangely moving friendship with his ex-wife’s new partner: we know it can’t be easy for either of them, but they evidently realise that life is too short to allow the weight of our crosses to crush our basic humanity.

Judy Davis is an underused actress, and her interaction with Connolly is a highlight. As a chronicle of adult relationships the film falls short of the likes of Lantana, but it’s still refreshing to watch a couple of old warhorses show the youngsters how it’s done. There’s no easy sentiment or instant gratification, but rather a slow-burn attraction that holds no promises of a lifelong partnership. Davis’s portrayal of Anna’s turbulent but controlled emotions makes it work, and since we never get to see a heart of gold beneath her tough-as-nails exterior the script sidesteps the opportunity to descend into Hollywood schmaltz.

The actual courtroom scenes are well-scripted, to the extent that you’ll find yourself wondering whether such an action might conceivably succeed in the real world. A brief scene depicting the cross-examination of Vincent Ball’s sympathetic cardinal is unexpectedly thought-provoking, while the surreal, inspiring conclusion to the case is worth the price of admission alone.

The film does the little things well – there’s a great soundtrack by David Bridie, director Mark Joffe indulges in the occasional visual flourish, and none of the supporting players disgrace themselves. It ultimately suffers from its status as a light comedy/drama, which is always a difficult genre if you’re trying to create a lasting impact, but it’s an easygoing affair which is impossible to dislike, and provides a pleasant alternative to worshipping yet another soulless blockbuster.

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originally posted: 10/15/01 17:28:17
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User Comments

12/04/07 Robin Kerr Much prefer Connolly on stage. He just tries to hard in a not so funny movie. 3 stars
10/08/07 raisaa legally inexcusable-has its moments but utterly horrendous on the whole 1 stars
1/16/05 Dogbollox John Clarke's original script was brilliant. The film is just awful. 1 stars
5/30/04 patrick anderson very good 5 stars
4/14/04 isai superb 5 stars
1/27/04 jayce like having your scrotum nailed to your forehead,horrifically bad 1 stars
1/23/03 Pinkline Jones Connolly as Funny as Hiroshima - Friels and Davis forgettable 1 stars
4/26/02 hum eh.entertaining but nothing special 3 stars
1/22/02 Faheem very clever 5 stars
12/20/01 AnGeL oF MuSiC Great movie! 5 stars
11/25/01 viking at least Billy Connolly was funny 4 stars
11/05/01 Arvind Billy Connolly is sexy 5 stars
10/31/01 no longer a Billy Connelly fan slow, boring, laughs few and far between, one of the worst movies I have ever seen 1 stars
10/27/01 Tristan Lee Very Poor 1 stars
10/26/01 matthew smith a delightful and very funny Australian comedy 4 stars
10/24/01 Andrew Cappo very funny 5 stars
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Directed by
  Mark Joffe

Written by
  Don Watson

  Billy Connolly
  Judy Davis
  Vincent Ball
  Bille Brown
  Emily Browning
  Colin Friels

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