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The Measure of a Man (2012)

by on 2012/11/09

“I hope I see you again . . . but if I don’t, take this second chance.”

* * *

With The Measure of a Man, Luke Perry returns in the second of three TV movies (so far) based on John William Goodnight (Goodnight for Justice). His late-1800s circuit court judge is nearly equal parts alcoholic, gambler, gunslinger, and womanizer. A unique twist is his dedication to truth, whatever the cost.

This time the lawman becomes involved in a botched robbery, wherein one man is killed, another escapes, and a third is captured alive. Believing the survivor can help to locate the leader of the gang, Goodnight delivers him from mob justice, and offers him a chance at redemption. But where does the survivor’s loyalty lie?

Family becomes a central theme, explored in various ways, from Goodnight’s perspective, as well as that of his opponent, Deke Spradling (Gunless Teach Grant), and an orphan boy who comes between the two (Cameron Bright of X-Men: The Last Stand). How do they each prioritize truth and family? And how is “family” defined, by blood or devotion?

There’s more potential than realization here, with grand ideas expressed in the broad strokes befitting its “Hallmark Channel” audience. The bad guy is bad just because, all lawyers are actually liars, and a struggling mother is as virtuous as she is impoverished. Oversimplified archetypes are the way of this game.

The production is a similar mix of good intentions and average expression. Picturesque landscapes are undercut by artificial interiors. Interesting angles and use of shifting focus is challenged by shaky horseback photography. A theatrical crane shot is belied by quick dips for commercials.

The biggest nit of all is the “climactic” showdown, virtually the polar opposite of the chaotic fights in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Here we’re thrown some long takes of clumsy boxing, laggardly edited, and backed by a score which bleeds any tension out. To call the scene deliberate would be too charitable . . . it’s as if the filmmakers were suggesting a shrug, not a conflict.

This next Goodnight for Justice installment is clearly of a piece with the original, yet odd in its self-contradictory evolution. Religion is practically absent now but, if anything, Man is more wholesome. While possessing compelling thematic potential, its medium doesn’t follow the message.

To draw upon Emerson’s Conduct of Life, a frequent touchstone in the tale, though The Measure of a Man knows how it should live, its visible carriage is wanting.

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Not Rated

87 minutes

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