It was Garth Marenghi who said “I know writers who use subtext, and they’re all cowards”. Well Felix Igori Ramos, director and writer of In the Defence Against Tyranny sure isn’t a coward by those terms. His contemporary political thriller is bold and irrepressible, but lacks the cohesion to impact upon viewers who have been bombarded with films and TV shows covering similar ground.
News anchor Francisco Suarez (Randy Vasquez) is presented with the chance to interview controversial presidential candidate Edward Ashe (Rick Ravanello) ahead of the 2016 election. Ashe wants only softball questions, and knows the interview is a chance for Suarez to put a controversial past behind him. But a failure to challenge the candidate on his racist and xenophobic policies would break Suarez’s fractured relationship with his liberal daughter Elise (Fernanda Moya) beyond repair.
In the Defence Against Tyranny wears its heart firmly on its sleeve. In an emotive time in US history, it’s one of the most emotive films that have been released directly dealing with an unprecedented democratic crisis mirroring the Trump presidency. This is both its strength and its downfall. The director’s ability to tie the political climate to the Suarez family’s own troubles effectively humanises a problem that can be too overwhelming to effectively portray cinematically. However, the film’s writing and story suffer badly from plot holes which feel farfetched even in these unpredictable times, and dialogue that is so over the top it stretches credibility to its very limits.
The cast largely perform their roles well, with Randy Vasquez a strong lead as the troubled Suarez. There is a chemistry with Fernanda Moya as father and daughter, and their strained relationship following the death of mother Cassandra (Marilyn Sanabria) feels genuine. However, the script is overly stagy, with an abundance of cliched dialogue that is difficult to perceive as realistic. The cast do an admirable job, but the conversations and interactions they are asked to perform are far too rehearsed and robotic.
The film desperately wants to work as political commentary, however despite its glaringly obvious allusions, it offers very little to say about our real world. Its Trump stand-in is reprehensible, but we never really see examples of why he connects with people so much, beyond all-out racism. The film also seems to have some nihilistic tendencies – suggesting at times that the political left also need to be confronted before the nation can heal. That’s all too well - but we don’t get any sense as to why both sides are as bad as each other. We never see the Democratic candidate, and largely only hear of her in glowing terms from Fernanda, or in condescending ones by Ashe – two clearly biased sources. The audience is left with little to form any opinion on, and the film’s thematic conclusion suffers because of this - especially as Suarez seems to embody left-wing opposition by the film’s end despite never professing any views in conjunction with this.
A plotline involving a sinister agency (presumably the CIA) working against Ashe also feels like it has been lifted from a completely different movie, and distracts from the real heart of the film – that being the family at its centre. The moral quandary this plotline presents is an intriguing one, but it is poorly presented – with the line “this is the only way” an utterly lazy justification for its inclusion, and one that is undermined by the film’s ending anyway.
In the Defence Against Tyranny has the makings of an interesting film, but both its story and politics are all over the place, and poor dialogue make this cheesy rather than chilling. Stick to Succession or Don’t Look Up if you want a blatantly obvious Trump expy.