Byrne gets Burned Snooping Around
"Defence of the Realm" is one of those political thrillers where we have a journalist discovering a cover up and then getting himself in danger by basically sticking his nose in where it's not wanted. Being set in Britain gives it a slightly different slant to most movies of this type and as such it doesn't feel like a big Hollywood movie which goes for gloss, in fact it is quite bleak in style. And that is probably why I struggled to get into "Defence of the Realm" as it's all too bleak, focussing on the drama but failing to give it any real adrenalin or action. As such the way the political cover up unfurls is good but because there is no excitement it struggles to hold your attention through several long dull scenes.
Having written an article about a prominent M.P. being involved with the KGB, journalist Nick Mullen (Gabriel Byrne - End of Days) believes there may be more to the story than what he first thought. And when his reported friend Vernon (Denholm Elliott) mysteriously dies shortly after returning home to discover his house has been ransacked, Nick decides to dig deeper into what is really happening. But the deeper he digs the more surprises he discovers, truth which could lead to major trouble and which do lead to him becoming paranoid that he is being followed and will end up just like Vernon dead!
Political cover ups are not a new area for a movie, even back in 1985 when "Defence of the Realm" was released but having one which takes on corruption in the UK halls of power makes for what should be a pleasant change. But unfortunately "Defence of the Realm" just doesn't quite work from all the almost confusing series of scenes which open the movie to the lack of action through out. It makes it all a little dull and whilst the unravelling of the cover up and the realisation that the government and those in power will go to any lengths to keep a secret a secret is interesting it does struggle to keep hold of your attention.
It almost feels like director David Drury wasn't comfortable with delivering action and so focussed on the drama of the cover up unfurling. As such when there are moments of action, and there are not many, they don't really grab you and get you excited by what you are seeing. This lack of action makes it all rather dull and whilst the surprise ending is quite good it is about the only good action scene in the whole of "Defence of the Realm".
Despite it lacking action and often struggling to grab your attention "Defence of the Realm" does have some good bits. Probably the best comes from when journalist Nick Mullen realises he's getting in to deep and so whilst carrying on researching he also becomes very paranoid. The scene where he is driving along and believes he is being tailed is one of the better moments as you get a real sense of how afraid he is that someone is on to him. It's the same with when he tries to find somewhere to hide his research notes in fear that his flat will be turned over by some government agency. But those are just a couple of good moments, well worked movie scenes in a movie which tries to be realistic rather than delivering manufactured action and suffers for doing so.
Unfortunately because "Defence of the Realm" aims for realism it has a knock on effect for the performances and Gabriel Byrne as journalist Nick Mullen ends up quite flat. There are no real dimensions to Mullen and so Byrne struggles to really deliver a central character which makes us warm to him and become interested in what he is doing. Denholm Elliot equally struggles as a fellow reporter resorting to what looks like over the top acting in such a flat movie which makes it feel very wrong. And as for Greta Scacchi well she is barely in the movie and then somehow becomes central to everything during the last 15 minutes, which ends up feeling just wrong. As such Scacchi has little time to establish a believable character and almost feels like she's been cast for her natural beauty.
What this all boils down to is that "Defence of the Realm" ended up disappointing me. It obviously wants to be a real, gritty drama about political cover ups and how far the Government will go to silence people. But unfortunately going for just drama and realism makes it all rather dull and flat with just a handful of scenes actually delivering anything close to excitement. And that realism has a knock on effect with the performances which end up equally as dull, which is a shame as the underlying story of a journalist investigating a cover up has potential.