DVD Review: Defendor
I’ve explained this before, but I don’t usually like to review movies that are no longer in theaters. Since Defendor is a movie that saw its widest theatrical release reach just four theaters and has just 17 total reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, I figured I could make an exception. I’ve never spoken to anyone who has seen it, and it’s a movie I think people need to know about. That’s why I’m here, my dear informed readers.
All signs (trailers, cover art) point to Defendor being a parody about a dopey superhero wanna-be. Even most of the critics’ quotes and blurbs on the DVD focus on the movie’s humor. Defendor is not a comedy. It is actually a very dark and disturbing drama about a man with serious psychological problems. Think Sling Blade meets Kick-Ass.
Woody Harrelson (Zombieland) stars as the slow and delusional Arthur. He’s a public works employee by day, but at night he becomes a costumed crime-fighter obsessed with capturing the evil-doer known only as “Captain Industry.” Armed with marbles and jars of pissed-off wasps, Defendor’s nightly adventures often lead him into confrontations with a dirty cop (Elias Koteas, Shutter Island), who may have a connection to “Captain Industry.” Koteas is fantastic as always, toeing the line of sleazy caricature without ever crossing it.
Michael Kelly (Changeling) plays Arthur’s boss and friend, who seems to be the only person really concerned about his safety. That is, until Arthur forms a bond with Kat, a prostitute played warmly by Kat Dennings (Charlie Bartlett). She knows where to find the bad guys and provides Arthur with some potentially helpful clues about who “Captain Industry” might be. I guess that’s one of the perks of the job. But is “Captain Industry” a real person, or just a thought that has consumed Arthur ever since his mother’s drug-related death when he was young?
First-time director and screenwriter Peter Stebbings brings a tremendous sense of pace to the film as he seamlessly cuts from the ongoing story back to Arthur’s sessions with his psychiatrist (Sandra Oh, TV’s “Grey’s Anatomy”). Most of the drama takes place in the wet and dingy streets, where there is always a strange, slow yet clumpy snowfall going on. The action sequences have a sense of realism and never seem overly choreographed or put-on. There are some funny parts, but they never take away from the issues at hand. It’s all brought together by an outstanding score, which adds to the mystery and suspense of the story.
Harrelson plays Arthur as sympathetic, yet not pathetic. It’s a tough role to take on, but it’s truly a brilliant performance. We are genuinely concerned for him, and that’s a key element because Defendor could legitimately die at any moment. It’s quite a change from most superheroes who we know are just being set up for their next sequel.
RIYL: Big Fan, Kick-Ass, Observe and Report.