The average, ordinary, mostly law abiding citizen has some thoughts. Thoughts which often run in the opposite direction of action taken. We may stand idly by and allow villainy to happen, watching the wolves tear the sheep apart, comforted by them fact that it’s them and not us. But in our mind, perhaps we’re Super Sheep, defender of the unbad ungulates. We would whisk the weakest amongst the flock to safety, and deliver swift justice to the vicious, carnivorous rabble.
On the other hand, perhaps you might want to stab another sheep in the eye. Not for any particular reason. Maybe just to see what the goo looks like.
The protagonists of the films Defendor and The Killer Inside Me aren’t quite ordinary, but they are both far from what you would expect at first glance.
Defendor stars Woody Harrelson as a man who makes himself into a superhero in the “real” world (Similar, at least in premise, to other recent deconstructionist superhero films such as Special and Kick-Ass.). Harrelson’s character also suffers from some undefined brain disorder. Hence, the film title in need of a spell check. In essence, he’s “Sweetly Retarded”, in the tradition of Forrest Gump and Lennie Small (Ok, maybe Lennie wasn’t that sweet. Moving on. . .). Another difficulty for him is that he’s looking for someone who most likely doesn’t exist; a villain named Captain Industry, who seems to be behind every dastardly crime committed.
This is a hard movie to classify. It’s not an action film. I wouldn’t exactly call it a comedy, either, though it is quite humorous. It’s a dark comedy/superhero/drama. Ok?!
Joining Defendor in his quest are Kat Dennings, a prostitute with a heart of bronze that he befriends along the way; Sandra Oh as a Psychiatrist; Michael Kelly as his concerned boss; and Clark Johnson as a cop (Surprise!) who becomes his police liaison. He ends up fighting for his life against Elias Koteas as a crooked cop, and a mysterious mobster who may be the man Defendor has been looking for all his life. . . Writer/Director Peter Stebbings does a good job of making you sympathetic to Defendor’s plight, without falling into the common trap of portraying the mentally handicapped as the only true sane people in the world. The dude’s got problems, and he needs serious help, but the whole point is that his heart’s in the right place. If it weren’t for the violence, prostitutes, and drug abuse, this would be a feel-good film for the whole family.
On the flip side of fantasy, let’s look at the fresh faced small town police officer turned sociopathic murderer. The Killer Inside Me, adapted from the novel by Jim Thompson, is just as brutal as it’s source material, and just as shocking as when it was written, almost 60 years ago. Casey Affleck plays deputy sheriff Lou Ford, an upstanding citizen with a dark secret or two. When he falls into an affair with a local prostitute, one thing leads to another, and pretty soon the secrets are stacked up next to a couple of bodies. Unlike a Noir tale involving an ordinary man in over his head, this is about a deranged man trapped in an illusion of normalcy, and his quest for freedom from the mundane.
I take some degree of comfort from characters like Lou Ford, Patrick Bateman, Meursault, and Tom Ripley. Not because I’m secretly a murderer, but because I often find myself hating the company of other people, and feeling like an alien in my own town. That, to me, is the heart of these types of characters; they do represent the darkness within us, but they also represent everything that makes us feel alone in the world.
The movie has taken some heat for protracted scenes of violence against women, and. . . goddamn. I knew it was coming, and my jaw was still on the floor. I think these criticisms miss the point of the movie, but if you have a low violence tolerance, this is a film to avoid like the plague. The photography is gorgeous, the cast is fantastic (Also featuring Ned Beatty, Elias Koteas and Kate Hudson), and the story is riveting. The pacing is a bit too quick, and I found some of the convoluted plot threads to be handled poorly, but overall this is a strong entry for the year.