Defender and Advocateby Michael Fox January 29, 2018
Bram Fischer is one of the great Jewish heroes of the 20th Century, yet he is not widely remembered outside his native South Africa. The crackling moral thriller “An Act of Defiance,” which recreates the attorney’s gutsy exploits during the Rivonia Trial in the early 1960s, brilliantly revives his legacy.
From the outset, the film defines Fischer (played with verve and intelligence by Peter Paul Muller) less by his considerable legal skills and reputation than by the company he keeps: He is a strategist and ally of Nelson Mandela and the other leaders (several of them Jewish) covertly plotting against the apartheid regime. In fact, Fischer is supposed to be at the meeting where the police bust in and arrest the activists.
Free and available to represent the accused against charges of sabotage, Fischer is more than their defender and advocate: He’s an active member of the resistance whose actions—epitomized by a tense, protracted sequence in which he smuggles key documents out of a government building, inadvertently placing his family in danger—express his commitment and courage even more than his legal challenges and parries.
Fischer’s extracurricular activities have the effect of pushing “An Act of Defiance” out of the realm of courtroom drama and into a full-bore thriller. That said, the film never loses sight of the plight of the Rivonia defendants, who face death sentences if convicted.
Dutch director Jean van de Velde fills the cast with South African actors such as Antoinette Louw, who imbues Molly Fischer with backbone, wit and warmth to match her husband. Along with its other attributes, “An Act of Defiance” is a moving love story.