2 Best Movies to Watch by Susan Walters

Staff & contributors

Written and directed by the film’s star, Albert Brooks, Defending Your Life imagines an afterlife in which purgatory is a courtroom, and whether you’ll be saved or damned is judged based on the life you led on Earth.

Did you live courageously, or did you live fearfully? Were you ashamed, meek, afraid of being vulnerable? Or did you risk some tender part of yourself in order to connect with others, to meaningfully impact another life?

Daniel Miller (Brooks) discovers he may not have lived as boldly as he assumed. In the afterlife and awaiting his day in afterlife court, he meets Julia (Meryl Streep, in what is possibly one of her most captivating roles), who is kind and thoughtful and a capital-G Good person. Of course, it’s only after dying that Daniel tunes in to the great possibility of a life not lived on autopilot. But is he too late to atone for his unexamined life—or is there time yet for a second chance?

Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Town, Arrival) plays Gary Webb, a journalist in investigating the American government’s possible involvement in cocaine trafficking in Latin America. Based on a true story, it’s in the same vein as other recent movies on investigative journalism. Jeremy Renner’s performance is the main reason to watch this movie. Even as the story spins into deeper levels of complexity, he remains a coherent, steady point of reference. It was his chance to prove to directors that he can carry a big-budget movie and he nailed it.