The Man Who Sued God

A descriptive title. Diverting David vs. Goliath courtroom comedy, if you'll pardon the expression.

Released in 2001, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 25 Aug 2003 by Scott Morris
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The Man Who Sued God is a refreshingly straightforward tale, given the convolutions recent films have wrung their plots through. Set in Sydney, Australia where its star Billy Connolly is about as well loved as he is in his native Scotland, he takes the role of Steve Myers, an ex-lawyer who sees that he's following the path to the dark side and quits, leading a simpler and more care free life on his fishing boat with his faithful mutt Arthur. He returns from a trip to meet his daughter on the pier just as storm clouds gather overhead. In a matter of moments, his only asset is destroyed by a bolt of lightning, prompting his ship to explode in a fashion that suggests he had a sideline in running C4 to terrorist outfits.

His insurance company refuses to pay out claiming it was an act of God. Steve's reasonable counter claim that it was an act of lightning goes unheeded and he's turfed out of the building. He's not the kind of bloke to take this lying down, so much to brother and fellow lawyer David (Colin Friels)'s disbelief Steve launches a lawsuit against God.

This draws the attention of Australia's media, although Steve would rather keep his daughter Rebecca (Emily Browning), separated wife Jules (Wendy Hughes) and her new man out of the spotlight. This is achieved by an unlikely alliance with a journalist (who along with fellow lawyers he considers to be one step up the evolutionary ladder from a cockroach) Anna Redmond (Judy Davis). She acts as a media coach, teaching him how to work an initially dismissive media onto their side, more or less. Certain opinionated media loudmouths such as the wonderfully named Dirk Streicher (Richard Carter) maintain Steve is a blasphemous crank, and there's a reasonable number of hardline activists willing to burn Steve as a heretic.

The case soon goes to trial after it is judged that there is a case to answer. Members of the Christian church and the Jewish community band together to fight the case as the named representatives of God here on Earth, in much the same way as large multinational corporations would have a named entity to represent them (generally the C.E.O, I understand). The churches hire a successful sleaze ball of a lawyer, Gerry Ryan to defend them.

Steve's case quickly becomes a class action suit as he realises how many other people are in the same boat as he is. As a sop to predictability, Anna and Steve eventually fall in love but at least it's handled in a relatively believable fashion. There's also the usual humming and hawing over the stress both financial and psychological the case places on his supporters and family, but these are never dealt with in any great depth. And well it shouldn't, as this films main selling point is the Big Yin himself.

After the film spends a fairly awful first twenty minutes of poorly executed slapstick, Billy getting drunk, swearing lots, falling over, spilling things on people and so forth, the film settles into a nice rhythm that manages to be consistently amusing, if rarely hilarious. This is no easy task at the best of times but when dealing with as dry a subject as the law it's an impressive achievement.

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More impressive yet is the ability to made several valid points without actually being blasphemous, not that that's ever stopped the lunatic religious fringe from getting their panties in a bunch. Regardless of Steve or anyone else's thoughts on the existence of God, this is focused on the one particular piece of conveniently undefined piece of legal shorthand that has been in use for hundreds of years as a universal get-out clause for insurers. Who defines what is an isn't an act of God? Science now has a clear idea of how things like lightning, hurricanes and other such severe weather patterns are formed, do can these still be said to be caused by God throwing his weight around? Do we accept that these are predicable patterns of nature? If insurance companies are arbitrarily declaring things an act of God, should they not have a panel of noted theologians to ratify their decisions?

It's a can of worms and no mistake. Billy provides a restrained and subtle performance in his courtroom performances, very different from his stand-up acts. Billy is no stranger to dealing with his religious beliefs in his stand-up acts from his beginnings in the folk scene, and I've fond memories of hearing his now-classic 'Last Supper' sketch on tape when I was a mere strap of a lad. Tame by today's standards but controversial in its day, seemingly for no other reason than the prevailing view that religion shouldn't be the subject of comedy. It's no surprise that Billy's able to give a convincing performance in this film then. As a side note, his well publicised feelings on journalists (and specifically paparazzi) are given a suitable vitriolic airing. Shades of the song from his 'A Change Is As Good As Arrest' album, 'You Take My Photograph (I Break Your Face)'

If you've seen any of Billy's stand up in the last few decades you'll know he's no stranger to profanity, and it's this and this alone that give the film its 15 rating. There are a few welcome outbursts when Billy looses his temper, particularly a great rant against his brother and Gerry in a restaurant which provide some welcome belly laughs amongst the more subtle courtroom drama. There aren't any gags in particular likely to have you rolling out of your seat, but it's never dull and Billy has more than enough charisma to gloss over any deficiencies in the material.

The Man Who Sued God is a brave film. Any comedy dealing with religion even in a peripheral manner runs the risk of being revolted against, even in this supposedly enlightened age. Perhaps more bravery is shown by crediting the audience with a modicum of intelligence and providing a few thought provoking arguments along with its laughs. Funnier than a hundred American Pie Wedding Teen Ha-Ha Penis Tit Bum Chuckles, this is far worthier of your cash and your thoughts. Highly recommended to any fan of Connolly's work, and worth a look even if you aren't fond of the man.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.

Mark Joffe
Cast list:
Billy Connolly (Steve Myers)
Judy Davis (Anna Redmond)
Colin Friels (David Myers)
Wendy Hughes (Jules Myers)
Bille Brown (Gerry Ryan)
Emily Browning (Rebecca Myers)
Vincent Ball (Cardinal)
Frank Whitten (Primate)
Peter Whitford (Moderator)
Linal Haft (Rabbi)
Tim Robertson (Judge Bonaface)