The Trial of Billy Jack (1974)

Genres - Action, Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Martial Arts, Message Movie  |   Run Time - 170 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Although it was a commercial success, The Trial of Billy Jack has gone down in history as one of the most legendary examples of cinematic excess. During its epic storyline, director/co-writer/star Tom Laughlin packs his film with enough melodrama for a year's worth of soap operas and crams in every social issue on his mind. Unfortunately, a lot of the strengths of The Trial of Billy Jack get lost in the process. Several scenes are devoted to lecture-style diatribes on various societal ills; the portrayal of government and big-business villains is so hysterically slanted that it makes their villainry lapse into cartoonishness; and the three-hour running time is likely to test the patience of even the most tolerant viewers. Worst of all, Billy Jack often seems like a bit player in a film where he should be the major character. That said, fans of cinematic curiosities may want to brave the treacherous waters of this film because it contains some scenes that are truly unique in the history of cinema. Unforgettably odd moments include a surreal scene where Billy Jack's spiritual guide leads him through the various levels of dealing with aggression, and the jaw-dropping, shamelessly manipulative tragic finale, which must be seen to be disbelieved. Ultimately, most viewers are likely to be baffled by The Trial of Billy Jack, and it can only be recommended to B-movie fans with a hearty constitution. However, that select few will find it strangely hypnotic -- it's a mess, but it's a fascinating mess.