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Goodnight for Justice (2011)

by on 2012/06/18

“A man has to figure out what he’s willing to sacrifice in order to do what he knows is right.”

* * *

It seems to me the prime selling point in the marketing of Goodnight for Justice is the reunion of director Jason Priestley and leading man Luke Perry, both alumni of Beverly Hills 90210. Trading on that association, however, brings different expectations than we’d reasonably associate with a Hallmark Channel selection.

Fortunately, with re-set expectations, there’s enough enjoyment in this picture to make it worth a look, a more-compelling-than-average TV movie.

Set in the late 1800s, we meet John William Goodnight (Perry), a Chicago lawyer who’s never lost a case. Thing is, he’s also a malcontent, a womanizing alcoholic. Recognizing his potential, yet wanting to improve him, his associates conspire to “promote” him to circuit judge in the wilds of Wyoming.

There he becomes a force of justice, defending the rights of the destitute, disenfranchised, and downtrodden. He also meets a widow, Kate Ramsey (Lara Gilchrist), who may prove to be his chance for salvation.

Now, being associated with Hallmark, you could assume her presence indicates romance. However, we are told in no uncertain terms Goodnight’s true struggle is between law and justice or, later, justice and revenge. Even so, in either case, there is really no question at all. Our hero here always does what is “right” with no significant conflict.

Ramsey conveniently defuses Goodnight’s womanizing, and his drinking is purely cosmetic. As flaws go, they barely impact on his character at all. He’s a charming rogue, but a capital-G-god-fearing man, with a weakness for peppermint candy. As for Kate, her problem is being talkative, truthful and sassy and spunky as all get-out.

It’s oddly contradictory: wholesome on one hand, where marriage is encouraged, where appearance and tradition are important; on the other, we find anachronistic progressiveness. Goodnight’s loyalties lie with “the negroes” a century before the Civil Rights Movement. Ramsey fights for the right to treat Cheyenne natives in her medical clinic. Most surprising — given both historical and broadcast contexts — is the rush of the leads to spend the night in a hotel bed together.

From a production standpoint, there’s a similar clash of rustic and modern distractions. The script is mixed, as is the acting, though the main leads acquit themselves well. Sets and scenery are attractive, the composition fine — I even liked the sepia effect for flashbacks — but I felt as if the pieces were assembled in a jarring way. A “hard open” and rapid-fire pacing suggests the compression of a longer source. Panning looks rushed, as does the upward motion of an early-on pedestal camera. In the restaurant and sheriff’s office, edits cut across the axes of action.

Ironically, I must admit I had a lot of fun watching this video. I realized by the end it was kind of like Batman’s Little House on the Prairie, if far less edgy or pioneering than that crossover implies. A haunted man on a personal crusade in the backwaters of the midwest. Make no mistake, Goodnight is no Dark Knight but — though it’s almost too modest to match the edge you’d expect of a western — it has an undeniable appeal, oddly comfortable and familiar.

And not because it’s basically Black Hills 82010.

* * *

Not rated

88 minutes

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  1. The Measure of a Man (2012) « Geek vs Goth

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