June 11, 2010

Justify My Netflix: Defendor

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

Defendor

Today's movie: Defendor, 2010 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because this quirky indie drama has a great underdog story behind it -- the film debut of writer/director Peter Stebbings, it got a pass from every studio in Hollywood despite having some fairly big stars attached to it (including Woody Harrelson, Elias Koteas and Sandra Oh), so ended up getting made independently on a shoe-string budget in Canada, just to become the big hit of last year's Toronto Film Festival, where it was then purchased by Sony but then shelved before receiving a traditional theatrical release, with it only now on DVD becoming available for watching to most Americans.

The reality: Really, really fantastic -- but sister, don't even begin to think that this is a goofy postmodern comedy about dysfunctional superheroes, as its trailer and poster heavily imply. Because this is actually a fairly tragic drama, a character study of a childhood-abuse victim who's now a mentally-challenged adult off his meds, who's had a complete psychotic snap and has now convinced himself that he actually is a superhero, and who spends the majority of the movie alternately having the crap beat out of him by the neighborhood drug dealers, and being taken advantage of by the underage prostitutes he's trying to protect. As such, then, this is much less of a story about superheroes than it is about vigilantes, and what makes such people tick, with the film in reality actually addressing the question, "What if Bernard Goetz had been wearing a mask and tights when he shot all those kids on the subway?," with the answer being that it would've been a lot more sad and dangerous for everyone involved than it might sound at first. (In fact, there's a whole section of this movie where our hero Arthur Poppington becomes the laughingstock of the city after being discovered and outed as "Defendor," until everyone quickly starts realizing that they should actually have pity and even a quiet respect for this guy instead of mocking him, a message that apparently went straight over the heads of the Sony marketing department.) An ingenious metaphorical look at the entire concept of "dignity," and why our nation's mentally-challenged population deserves such a thing just as much as anyone else, I found myself really moved by the time Defendor was over, but only by embracing the message that Stebbings was trying to give; and I suspect you will as well, but only if you can give up the compulsion to have a "gawk at the loser" mentality towards this surprisingly weighty drama.

Strangest piece of trivia: This movie also once had Ellen Page attached to it, until she bowed out to make a different film instead.

Worth your time? Yes

Filed by Jason Pettus at 10:26 AM, June 11, 2010. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |