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Review: Defendor (****)

Vigilantism exists in the grey fuzz that surrounds what society deems to be ethical behaviour. Actions taken in this vein may benefit society, but the subjective application of justice has the potential to do more harm than good.

In Defendor, Woody Harrelson plays the titular hero, a man of below average intelligence who suffered deep mental and emotional scarring in his childhood. As a self-styled superhero, he roams the city by night dealing street justice to those he deems (as Dirty Harry once famously did) "punks."

The film is beautifully shot, using a range of cinematic techniques to calmly elicit appropriate emotional responses in the viewer. The film is about the grittiness of a big city, and its vistas of Hamilton, the old industrial city, are hauntingly beautiful and enticing.

Woody Harrelson plays an impressive combination of Woody from Cheers and Mickey from Natural Born Killers. Woody may not be considered one of the acting greats of our day, but its easy to see why the man garned an Oscar nom for his work last year in The Messenger. His performance in Defendor is easily up to that level.

While the visuals and acting are both great, where the film really excels is in its writing. The subtle dialog explores themes of vigilante justice, police corruption, friendship, heroism, and goodness. The leitmotif is that justice is a tricky concept; the film is essentially an ode to moral relativism, sprinkled with some guilty laughs.

Shot on a shoestring $4 million budget, the movie demonstrates that cinema is not a medium whose strengths are best expressed by big-budget special effects, but by the careful, heart-wrenching examination of the human psyche, by touching drama, and by strong performances. Defendor is a movie about the dumb hero in all of us, about overcoming our inadequacies to do great things. It's a shame that a film like this will probably be overlooked, because it was truly lovely.

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