October 12, 2010

DVD Review: Defendor

Superhero films have become a very popular go-to genre for Hollywood. Looking to make some cash? License a property and go to town! The results have ranged from the abysmal (Catwoman) to the fantastic (The Dark Knight) with plenty of stops in between. In addition to those adapted properties of well known characters, we are starting to see more attempts at deconstructing the genre and examining the "everyman as hero." This has resulted in films like Watchmen, Kick Ass, and Unbreakable. Now, the everyman hero is not the only thing they have going for them, often it is not even the main thing, but that leads into Defendor.

Compared to those other films Defendor is a very tiny one. It is a low budget indie whose quality belies its lower budget origins and is executed in a fine fashion that it stands right there with the big budget boys and may prove to be even more endearing as the budget doesn't get in the way of character as is wont to happen in some big budget action extravaganzas. Defendor has a nice balance of character and story, is well paced, and has nicely placed bits of action that disguise the overall lack of action in the film. That does sound a little strange, but Iron Man is similar in how it is not really an action movie, but the sequences it has makes it seem bigger than it is.

Defendor is the story of Arthur Poppington (Woody Harrelson). He is a fellow who is a little slow, very sweet, honest, straightforward, and very likable. Besides all of that, Arthur also likes to put on a black costume, complete with a duct tape "D" on the chest and painted on bandit mask, and fights petty crime. He has makeshift weapons and corny lines, but he is earnest in what he believes and in turn I wanted to believe in him.

Well, one night his patrol leads his path across that of a dirty cop named Dooney (Elias Koteas) and a crack smoking runaway prostitute named Katerina (Kat Dennings). This leads to bigger confrontations that Arthur is ill prepared to take on, including going after a Serbian crime boss he believes to be his arch nemesis Captain Industry, the man he blames for the death of his mother.

The idea of a regular, if slow, guy taking up arms and putting up the good fight is an inspiring one. Not that I am advocating vigilantism, no, rather the idea that one person can make a difference is a good one. However the movie has more going on, with regards to Defendor's capture and the questions surrounding his mental health, not to mention the mutual affect that Arthur and Kat have on each other.

Writer/director Peter Stebbings has done a fine job of combining dark comedy with drama and thriller elements. He has written some interesting characters and tells a story that keeps you involved. Then there is Woody Harrelson whose performance is nothing short of spectacular. He brings a lot of nuance and depth to Arthur, just watch his facial expressions and the believable fashion he approaches the character and the various situations. Simply fantastic.

Audio/Video. The DVD is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. It looks and sounds fine throughout, although I would be hard pressed to point to anything that truly stands out. There are a lot of dark sequences and the detail is always solid throughout although I found the colors to generally be on the muted side. As for the audio, it does the job, clear dialogue and music, but nothing to write home about. This is what you expect from your every day DVD, it does not have a high budget sheen, but it does the job well and you will be pleased with the experience.

  • Commentary. The track features Writer/Director Peter Stebbings, stars Woody Harrelson and Kat Dennings, and producer Nicholas Tabarock. It is a good track with plenty of information on the cast, locations, and the actual shoot. Definitely worth giving a listen (after watching the movie, of course).
  • Deleted Scenes. This has a series sequences that did not make the final cut. Interesting but nothing special.
  • Outtakes. A collection of on-set goofs, fun once.
  • Featurettes. About an hours worth of featurettes round out this release. They cover a variety of topics including the origin of the story, development of the screenplay, and the cast. 
Bottomline. This is a good movie with a great lead performance at the heart in Woody Harrelson. It is a story that will draw you into the life of Arthur/Defendor, you will like him and cheer for him and maybe feel a little sorry for him. When it is over, you will smile, put the disk on your shelf and actually want to revisit it again down the line.


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Article first published as DVD Review: Defendor on Blogcritics.


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