Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Defendor (Movie Review)

I do not consider myself a fan of Woody Harrelson. Outside of his character way back when on "Cheers", he seems to play creeps and unlikable types. But in "Defendor" he breaks from this pattern to play the role of a mentally handicapped man who is driven to fight crime on the streets as a superhero.

The first thing you should know about this movie is that it is not a comedy. Although it has been marketed as a dark comedy, it is actually a dark drama with a few comedic moments.

Arthur Poppington (AKA "Defendor") is possibly mildly retarded, although I lean toward seeing him as autistic or clinically insane given that there are some things he creates for his super-heroics that require high functioning mental capacity. He lives under the delusion that he is a superhero seeking out the arch-villain known as "Captain Industry". His sole purpose is to find and defeat this villain. As the story progresses, we learn more about Arthur and how he came upon the delusions he suffers. And with every further insight to his character, I wanted to root for him more and more.

Although it would have been easy to play his character for exploitative laughs, the movie never does this. Instead, Arthur is a character who sees the world as we all should, in one sense. He has not adjusted to the fact that there is evil in the world. His sweetly innocent and naive personality is a constant reminder that although we have worked for centuries to create efficient systems of justice, our system is broken and flawed. It may be the best we have, but it is still a tragedy that we are unable to do better and justice is often left undone.

This movie would be a great jumping off point to talk about the concepts of evil and justice. I think we have largely become numb and deaf to these concepts in our day to day lives and this movie serves as a wake-up call, pointing out the existence of evil and lack of justice while pleading for a better world. Several times in this movie I felt moisture gathering in my eyes as I empathized with Defendor. I mourned the presence of evil along with him and cringed as he was unsuccessful in his attempts to vanquish it. Arthur repeatedly pays a high price for his efforts in this movie, and it is discouraging to watch. His ideals are pure and good, but he lives in a very dark world. Our world.

In many ways, this movie is a great compliment to "Watchmen", though it doesn't contain the same kind of flashy action as the Snyder film. This movie is down to earth and steeped in realism from beginning to end. And sometimes the realism is brutal. You may not want to live vicariously through Defendor, but you will likely root for him from beginning to end.

The performances are wonderful across the board and Harrelson especially shines. It's early in the season, but I hope the Oscars don't forget about Harrelson and this movie.

More than any film I've seen before, this movie captures the concept of a superhero in the real world effectively and realistically. It also serves as a wake-up call, reminding us that the world is not such a great place to live in much of the time. We are in desperate need of rescue.

Don't miss this one.

Rated R for drug use and language throughout, violence and sexual content.

Quality: 9.5/10

Relevance: 9.0/10

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