Sunday, March 21, 2010

Woody Harrelson: Zombie Killer, Messenger and Defendor

I never expected to be writing anything praising the acting skills of Woody Harrelson, the bartender from "Cheers." I thought he did a decent job of playing the over-the-top crazy guy (Natural Born Killers, 2012) and the "doofus" (Kingpin, Edtv), and didn't really have too much to offer aside from that.

In the past few months, I have seen Zombieland, The Messenger and Defendor. If not for Christoph Waltz's outstanding performance in Inglourious Basterds, I really think that Harrelson could have been the one sweeping the awards for his genuine performance in The Messenger. (He did manage win the Independent Spirit and National Board of Review awards for Best Supporting Actor.) He provided depth and a range of emotion in that part that I wasn't really aware that he could pull off. He brought the right blend of that depth with the aforementioned archetypes to play Tallahassee in Zombieland and the titular character in Defendor. Sure, Zombieland was a little over-the-top (what zombie movie isn't?), but in the scenes that called for a little more than the guns-blazing action star performance, Harrelson delivered both the comedy and the drama. In Defendor, Harrelson plays Arthur, a man who isn't "all there" mentally and decides to become a real-life superhero. The world of Defendor is not pretty - from the dirty cop's crew that nearly beats Defendor to death to his unlikely female sidekick, who is also a hooker - but Harrelson manages to play Arthur (and Defendor) with a mix of innocence and fortitude that really makes the whole story compelling.

Out of the three films, I have to say that Defendor surprised me the most. I knew going into The Messenger that it was getting a lot of awards buzz, so Harrelson's strong performance wasn't a huge shocker. Zombieland was pretty much a straight-forward horror comedy, it just featured some better-than-normal performances and plot twists. I'm a big fan of comic book/superhero films and I also love revisionist takes on pretty much any genre, so when I first heard about Defendor I was curious to see the revisionist superhero movie. The narrative structure of the film provides the story, more or less, from Arthur's point-of-view. I don't want to give too much away, but through his conversation with Sandra Oh's character, a framework is established that allows Arthur to gradually reveal more about himself by sharing the events of his life over the last few weeks. The setting of the story and a lot of the situations the characters find themselves in might be bleak, but Arthur/Defendor carries a sense of hope if he can help turn things around, and he extends that hope to the people around him. And that, my friends, is what any good superhero should do.

After seeing these three films, I'm feeling hopeful about the future of Harrelson's acting career (which includes Zombieland 2).

Defendor: 4 (out of 5)
The Messenger: 4
Zombieland: 4


Post a Comment