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In 'Daredevil,' Justice Is Blind

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 14, 2003

I DON'T know. Ben Affleck as a superhero? With his bed-head thatch of tousled hair and crooked smile, he's sort of cute, I'll grant you. Still, he wouldn't have been my first choice to pour into the form-fitting burgundy leather bodysuit of the comic-book crime fighter known as Daredevil, a man who jumps off of buildings as easily as most people get up from the couch. But, then again, I probably wouldn't have cast Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man, either, and look how it turned out. Didn't see that one coming.

Okay, so maybe with a little padding Affleck manages to pull "Daredevil" off, especially since the protagonist of the film, based on the Marvel Comics character, is Matt Murdock, a blind, insecure, self-doubting lawyer who can't maintain a relationship with a woman and who still hasn't gotten over the death of his father when he was 12. Now there's a role for Affleck. (Actually, it sounds more like a role for Philip Seymour Hoffman, but that's one actor nobody wants to see in leather.)

Focus, focus.

Ah yes, we were talking about "Daredevil."

Like Affleck himself, the film is perfectly satisfactory without being deeply satisfying. Like all comic books, it concerns the confrontation between good and evil. On the one side, there's Daredevil, an attorney whose blindness has caused his other senses to become hypersensitive and whose personal tragedy (and association with our flawed criminal justice system) has caused an acute inflammation of the sense of right and wrong. He is, in other words, a vigilante, albeit an uncommonly effective one, beating the stuffing out of those he cannot put in jail the boring, legal way.

On the other side is the vicious crime lord Wilson Fisk, known as the Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan), and his hit man, Bullseye (Colin Farrell), a psychotic Irish assassin who kills people by throwing things at them. That's right: pencils, broken glass, Chinese throwing stars. Actually, it's less silly and a lot grosser than it sounds. I think I've developed a permanent nervous tic from flinching at all the ways people get punctured.

Things get personal for Matt/Daredevil when Bullseye kills the father of our hero's newest lady love, a martial arts expert and nurturing child care professional named Elektra (Jennifer Garner). They also get complicated when Daredevil is implicated in the crime.

But what makes the film most interesting is really another complication, and that is the moral ambiguity of what Matt does in his spare time. "I'm not the bad guy," he reassures a cowering child who has just witnessed Daredevil, in a costume that makes him look like a cross between Batman and Beelzebub, pummel someone's face into a pulp.

It's a nice, dark touch for writer-director Mark Steven Johnson to make. I only wish he had made a little more of that kind of figurative chiaroscuro, and a lot less of the murky lighting under which most of the hard-to-see action footage was shot. What is this, a comic book movie or an art house film? When someone gets his butt kicked, I want to see it. But that's just the opinion of a blind, self-doubting film critic with his own twisted sense of cinematic right and wrong.

DAREDEVIL (PG-13, 103 minutes) -- Contains violent combat and sensuality. Area theaters.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company