The Defenders: Taking the First (TV Movie 1998) Poster

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Yet another great movie in the series!
JBoze31325 April 2000
Like the other Defenders movies from Showtime, this one was just brilliant in it's script and story. You think the entire movie will revolve around the first trial, but then it becomes an intricate working of yet another related trial. It's kind of hard to comment on the movie without giving anything away, and by giving away the plot, it totally ruins the movie, so I won't do that. All I will say is that this movie is genius. Just like the other Defenders films, it's a nonstop puzzle that these brilliant lawyers are putting together, and you can never guess what will ultimately happen in the end. The actors are terrific and the storyline is intriguing, it doesn't get any better than this when it comes to legal dramas.
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Started Better Than I Expected But Went Downhill
Theo Robertson10 June 2005
I've never thought much of THE DEFENDERS TVMs mainly because of the liberal do gooder subtext that bashes the audience over the head at every single opportunity so when the teleplay started I instantly knew where it was going . A right wing rabble rouser called John Walker stands on campus calling for Americans to take back their country . A lone Latino protester heckles Mr right wing guy and on the way home he bumps into some of the rabble rouser's vanguard .


As I said I knew where this was going . The Latino defends himself against the bad guys and finds himself on a murder charge but this doesn't happen as the Latino is beaten to death , so I guess credit where it's due since this plot twist surprised me and we see Preston and Preston , who if you've seen previous TVMs in THE DEFENDERS series will know are bleeding heart liberals , having to defend a misguided teenager up on a racist murder charge . So far so good and if the story continued in this vein it would certainly have been very interesting for this viewer . Unfortunately this is skated over very briefly and the story once again becomes a liberal crusade against conservative values

I don't want to give the impression that it's because of politics that I disliked TAKING THE FIRST but as with the previous TVMs in the series we're not exactly asked to be impartial as to who the good guys and bad guys are . Can't the audience make up their own minds ? The rather polemical scripting doesn't allow the audience to think for themselves which is slightly insulting . But it's with the rather dubious legal arguments that the main problem lies - If someone makes a rather extreme speech and them someone decides to further a vaguely similar cause through violence does this mean the person making the speech is responsible ? Highly unlikely and the arguments put forward are badly explored too

I would say that THE DEFENDERS: TAKING THE FIRST is probably the best in the series but considering the very low marks I gave the previous two TVMs that's not much of a compliment and this ( Final ? ) story in the series suffers from all the problems like highly unlikely legal arguments and too much liberal politics as the other stories that preceded it
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It was a TV movie - I didn't have high expectations...
paul-anderson-128 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
.... and as such I wasn't disappointed. It had passable acting, passable direction, passable scripting. The situation depicted was credible, the actions of the characters for the most part believable, and was one of the few legal dramas where the legal arguments were of a kind that would actually be made.

Contrary to claims about the perceived liberal politics of this movie being shoved down your throat, there's hardly anything "liberal" about disliking the fictional "America for Americans" group run by character John Walker in this movie - they are basically the KKK without the hoods - an extreme right wing white supremacist group who advocate that only whites should have rights in America.

Also, the legal arguments were hardly dubious - many of the arguments and cases mentioned in passing would have passed by in a blur for the lay audience. I saw this movie as part of a First Amendment law class, and that was the reason I got so many of the references. Our assignment after watching the film was to imagine that John Walker appealed the case to the Supreme Court - we had to right two Supreme Court decisions, one overturning John Walkers conviction, and one confirming it, before making the case for which we felt was more compelling.

The arguments in the film regarding hate speech, whether it is protected under the Constitution and whether you could be held responsible for someone else's actions undertaken under the influence of your words were credible and convincing (both for and against - it is still very much a live and contentious issue in the US and indeed in the UK. It forms a major part of the controversy over the plans to have a crime of "incitement to religious hatred" and "glorification of terrorism").

Of course, these days it is the parties on the political right who would like to hold people criminally responsible for their words, if others act under their influence (think for example attitudes towards Muslim clerics). As this was the argument espoused by the so-called "liberals" in the movie, I hardly think this espouses a liberal agenda. The "bleeding heart liberal" argument should really be "no matter how hateful your speech you should be allowed to say it".

So, if you are looking for great cinema, then look elsewhere (in fact why are you even looking at a TV movie?). If you are looking for good cinema, then look elsewhere. If you are looking for a way to kill 90 minutes in a generally entertaining fashion then you might want to consider it. If you like legal dramas and have an interest in the issues of hate speech and the ins and outs of US First Amendment law, then you'll want to check it out too.
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Could have been made about Matthew Shepard's Murder !
Soap12 November 1998
This was a very good movie on its own. I liked it even more in that it coincidentally so closely parallels the real life gay hate crime murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming, and how it is believed that anti gay messages and TV commercials from various groups are responsible for this and for provoking anti gay hatred.
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