In his review of Defence of the Realm, Gene Siskel observes that one of the “acid tests” for determining a good film is if it provokes in you a desire to be part of the world it depicts. In this case, his response is “Yes!” He is fascinated by the world of British journalism presented in this movie and he manages to get Roger Ebert enthused about it, too.
And, in a blog posting from Urban Film Review, we get a similarly enthusiastic review from someone who is open to the zeitgeist of 1980’s England, with its conspiracy/paranoia/old school spy/cold war ethos.
These two reactions to the film remind us that we are jaded. In the 21st century, heroes are indomitable, unerring, and completely without human foibles or weaknesses. We forget that real heroes are ordinary people caught up in extraordinary situations, called upon to find inner reserves of strength and determination, forced to calibrate their fear and overcome their instincts for survival in pursuit of some higher aim, some higher destiny. How quaint. How romantic. Without superpowers and super weapons, how does one overcome something greater than oneself? Something one cannot even really identify? Where is the Batmobile when you need it?
Defence of the Realm is the story of a run-of-the-mill journalistic hack who stumbles upon the story of a lifetime, a story that can make his career and set him up for success. Or can it? The wonder of this story is that it is complicated and dense with detail. As the complications play themselves out, our hack begins to find in himself the will to pursue the mystery, to throw ambition out the window in an attempt to discover the truth.
And the wonder of Gabriel Byrne’s performance is that he plays it real. He portrays a selfish, reasonably intelligent, simplistic guy who, upon discovering a mystery, grows up and learns to look beyond his limited scope to see a larger playing field, a field full of nasty types who don’t think twice about removing players like him “without prejudice.” He stumbles. He fumbles. His naivete makes us cringe, even though we, in his place, would behave just as he does. The courage he finds in himself to keep pushing on, to ask questions that piss everyone off, to stick his nose in places that could explode, is the extraordinary courage of an ordinary man, and we applaud him, even as we recognize that his efforts may be futile.
The Defence of the Realm Mega Movie Page sheds light on this small but wonderful film by providing reviews, videos, great screencaps, posters, promotional images, blog postings, and more. Go back to 1985 and enjoy this dark and dangerous film!