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When the truck that is transporting convicts has an accident on the road, the inmates John "Joker" Jackson and Noah Cullen that are chained to each other escape. They hate each other but they need to help each other to succeed in their intent of going north to jump in a train and reach freedom. Meanwhile the humane Sheriff Max Muller organizes a posse to track them down in a civilized manner and respecting justice. Joker and Cullen reach a small farm where a lonely woman helps them to get rid of their chains. She offers to driver her car with Joker and her son Billy while Cullen would escape through the swamp to the railroad. But when Joker learns that she sent Cullen to a trap, he leaves her and is shot in the shoulder by Billy. Joker seeks out Cullen to save him and when they meet each other, their former hatred has changed to friendship and respect. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
This Stanley Kramer classic covers a lot of ground -- literally and figuratively. Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier are white and black inmates who, while chained together at the wrist, escape their captors when their prison truck hits the ditch. Now Curtis is forced to put aside his prejudice and work with his new partner in getting the cuffs off and ensuring their newfound freedom lasts.
As its reputation suggests, THE DEFIANT ONES is first and foremost a study of racism. It has a deliberate unpleasantness about it as it brings to life the unsavory attitudes of the past. A young boy who stumbles across the convicts races to the arms of Curtis for fear Poitier will hurt him. A lonely farm wife who takes the men in has to be told that yes, Poitier deserves a meal, too. And as the men face hanging at the hands of some rednecks, Curtis appeals to them on the grounds a white man can't be lynched. Yet the film carries no tired, moralistic messages, instead allowing the racism on display to speak for itself.
THE DEFIANT ONES goes well beyond its central theme. It's an exciting adventure, along the lines of THE FUGITIVE, as our anti-heroes elude their captors and try to survive in the unforgiving wilderness. It's a story of raw human emotions at work and of overcoming adversity by putting our trust in others. And it's a story of loyalty and the capacity of the human heart to change. We come away with the sense that the people involved with this picture knew they were part of something truly special.
Though he was given second billing, Poitier easily steals the show with his dignified performance. He brilliantly conveys the tortured, yet still upbeat soul of a young black man who came of age in a time of unimaginable difficulty. He often doesn't have to speak to let us know the pain he has and will continue to endure. Poitier proves that critics aren't just being kind when they cite him as one of the great black actors of his or any other era (though as we see here, he is definitely no singer!).
THE DEFIANT ONES moves just a touch slow at times, particularly when the focus is placed on Curtis. But this is a movie as important as it is worth watching.
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