TIFF Review: Defendor

Woody Harrelson is Defendor

Think Gotham City is the only city with a monopoly on costumed vigilantes?  Think again.  Hamilton, Ontario has its own guardian of the night: Defendor, a well meaning citizen hero bent on cleaning up the streets of The Hammer, or at least trying to.

Defendor is the first feature film from Canadian actor Peter Stebbings, and what a great debut it is.  Despite the mixed North American cast, the film feels thoroughly Canadian; but not in that in your face, “Hey look, we made a Canadian film!” kind of way that plagues most local productions.  The film is all heart, it will have you rooting for the good guy in a way you don’t often see in films anymore.  Canadian cities don’t usually get to play themselves on film, but Hamilton is perfectly cast as a down and out town that’s a little rough around the edges.

Woody Harrelson plays Arthur Poppington, a social outcast who lives in his own little world.  His days are filled with reading comic books and working a construction job for the city, his nights on the other hand are much less mundane.  By night Arthur becomes Defendor, protecting the downtrodden from the corrupt and the criminal.  With a VCR strapped to his back and camera on his head, Defendor fights the bad eggs of The Hammer armed with a variety of weaponry: a trench club, a bag of marbles, a jar full of wasps and the dreaded lime juice squirter! His arsenal seem innocuous, but is surprisingly effective. Harrelson is perfect for the role as a simple guy with a good heart, who just wants to do the right thing. He just goes that extra step that none of us would ever take.

Along the way Arthur befriends a teenage hooker named Kat (Kat Dennings).  At first she uses Arthur to get back at Chuck Dooney (the always awesome Elias Koteas), a dirty vice cop who takes advantage of her situation, violently and often.  But as Arthur becomes more involved in his fight against the criminal underworld  — and more and more beat up as a result — Kat begins to regret exploiting his good nature in the first place.  The relationship between Arthur and Kat is akin to Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster’s in Taxi Driver; Harrelson’s character isn’t crazy like Travis Bickle though.  Justice doesn’t come from the barrel of a gun for Arthur.  He is a bit misguided, but his heart is in the right place; he’s got his principles and he sticks to them throughout the film.

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It’s always satisfying to see great original films being made in Canada.  Defendor is a perfect example of what a great drama can be, Canadian or otherwise.  A solid cast led by Harrelson make the film not only very entertaining to watch, but also incredibly believable.  Defendor is a strange little film that manages to be funny and inspirational one moment, sobering and serious the next.  It’s a fine line to walk, but the filmmakers pull it off quite well.  Any city in the world would be lucky to have a hero like Defendor watching over them.

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