by NIR SHALEV
Woody Harrelson is an actor of many talents. Just a few months back I’d praised his powerful and naturalistic performance in my review for the film The Messenger (2009) and lo and behold, he was nominated for an Oscar for it. Here, he plays Arthur Poppington, construction worker by day and crime fighter by night. And let me get this off my chest right now: this is one of Harrelson’s most endearing and human performances.
Arthur’s alter ego is named Defendor. Defendor sports a WWII German helmet equipped with a webcam and a flashlight and a large “D” on his chest made with duct tape. He frequents dark alleyways at night and hunts down wrong-doers. Arthur is middle-aged and inexperienced in actual combat. Seeing that he is always eventually defeated by beatings and sometimes stabbings, watching him “fight crime” can be rather depressing.
One night, Defendor rescues a woman from an evil doer, an undercover cop named Chuck Dooney (Elias Koteas) who’s as corrupt as it gets. The woman, Kat Debrofkowitz (Kat Dennings) asks Defendor/Arthur if she can stay with him for a short period of time and after he agrees to let her stay they mostly don’t get along.
Arthur’s been on the lookout for Captain Industry for all of his life, believing that he’s responsible for selling his mother the drugs that ultimately killed her when he was at a young age. The film focuses on Defendor’s crusade against evil and also darkly showcases that superheroes cannot exist in the real world because they are not impervious to bullets and because no one takes them seriously.
Arthur’s education had consisted of reading comics from a young age and for the most part he is still largely illiterate. He’s an orphaned, middle-aged man-child and Kat exploits that fact by charging him $40 a day as she provides him with tips and info about the biggest criminals that she knows of. He battles Dooney on several occasions, even kidnapping him once and torturing him for information about Captain Industry, but the film keeps us interested in the scenarios without resorting to lampooning the genre of the “vulnerable superhero” because of the level of humanity that it evokes from early in the film. This is a dark comedy, but at its heart it focuses on the human element of lacking a proper childhood. Replace Arthur with a serial killer who’d lost his parents at a young age to drugs and violence and you have a film with a similar formula except one that follows the antagonist.
This is a visually dark film, dark for effect; evoking the violent nature of mankind. It showcases that good guys also do bad things, but to bad guys, so therefore it’s justified. We feel sympathetic to Arthur’s cause but can’t help but blame him, too when he fails frequently because due to having superhero pride, he cannot ask for help. But we are also frequently reminded that he’s not all right upstairs, and possibly has mild autism.
This is Canadian actor Peter Stebbings’ directorial debut and is a wonderful testament to the Canadian cinema because we all know that the Canadian cinema isn’t anywhere near on par with the current American cinema, even in the independent circles. I blame the acting talent, or lack of, but here with big stars like Harrelson, Dennings, and (yes, Canadian) Koteas we have a heck of a winner. This is a touching, dark, and scarily well acted film that treads on old territory and makes it new and fresh. In short, it’s kick ass.
The DVD and Blu-ray versions both contain deleted scenes, outtakes, behind the scenes featurettes, and a commentary track with the main cast and director.
New releases this week: 35 Shots of Rum, 44 Inch Chest, The Lovely Bones, The Young Victoria