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June 14, 2009
Review - " Defiance "  - (on DVD) By Roland Hansen
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Directed by Edward Zwick
Starring: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell, Mia Wasikowski

"Every day of freedom is like an act of faith. And if we should die, trying to
live, then at least we die as human beings," says Tuvia Bielski (Daniel
Craig), in Defiance, Paramount Home Entertainment's June 2nd DVD
release, based on a true story. Many of us are not aware that in 1941 in
Belorussia a band of civilian Jews led by Tuvia, Zus (Liev Schreiber) and
Asael Bielski (Jamie Bell) survived capture by the Nazis and subsequent
imprisonment in concentration camps by living in the woods. At first Tuvia
and Zus just watned to hide in the woods themselves with their little
brothers after the slaughter of their parents on their own farm, but they
felt compassion towards the many other Jews running from the Nazis and
helped them form a community where they were all hungry freedom
fighters who remained alive. Tuvia and Zus did not know that they would
spend years trying to find food for the old, the young, the sick, the
peasantry, upperclassmen, intellectuals and the strange mix of people
who banded together there. Later the two brothers and other healthy
young men helped Viktor Pachenko (Ravil Isayanov), a Communist leader,
fight against the Germans. Defiance was shot in Vilnus, Lithuania, just two
kilometers away (across the border to Belorussia) from where the real
events occurred.
In their community there were intellectuals who'd never raised a hammer who were soon wielding tools to help build shelters.
"If my friends at the Socialist Club could see me now," one says, "I haven't read a book in months!" They also expound on
politics: "In the West, a monster with a little mustache; in the east, a monster with a large mustache - that's all I need to know
about politics!" Zus and the others carve chessmen to help keep them stimulated, although everyone must live in fear, with
round-the-clock look-outs. Women at first are told that they have men for protection, but are eventually taught to shoot
pistols and rifles too, and sent on food-foraging missions.

Defiance is a film that seems just about right on paper, but somehow it doesn't quite translate into a successful cinematic
outing. It was directed by Edward Zwick, a reasonably talented man who is returning to very familiar territory here. His Glory
beautifully told the story of a man leading a group of oppressed people into an impossibly challenging battle. The Last
Samurai also told the story of a man leading a group of oppressed people into an impossibly challenging battle. Now
Defiance tells the story of…well, you guessed it. Despite the fact that Defiance concentrates on one of the more emotionally
devastating chapters in recent world history, it lacks the resonance of the two aforementioned films, going through the
motions of crafting an emotionally-charged historical drama in a lackluster and somewhat unimaginative manner.

As you might expect, Zwick and his crew do a tremendous j
ob in terms of the technical details. The film looks very
authentic throughout, with well-researched production and
costume design playing a strong part in terms of immersing
us in the experience. With a gentle and sensitive musical
score that makes a stronger emotional connection than
anything actually contained into the film. Despite the
somewhat weakly-drawn characters, Schrieber and Craig
do manage to keep the film engaging throughout due to their basic ability to seem genuine and credible even when saddled
with rather limited dialogue. Additionally, there is one scene
in the film that I found genuinely startling: a moment in which
Tuvia determines to do whatever is necessary to maintain
his position of leadership. This brief scene has a raw impact
that the rest of the film could use more of.

The characters are another weak point. Daniel Craig and
Liev Schrieber are both excellent actors, but their roles
simply aren't terribly interesting. They are gruff and violent
men who are determined to help their people survive in the midst of devastating circumstances. They spend a large portion
of their time getting into fights with each other. The film could have done with one or two less scenes of brotherly bickering,
particularly considering the 136-minute runtime. Craig and Jamie Bell are both saddled with a good deal of sentimental
dialogue that sounds more like Oscar bait material than anything else. Bell shares a romance with a young woman named
Chaya (Mia Wasikowska). This is handled with so much sweetness that one can only feel assured that it will end in some sort
of tragedy. Jubilant scenes of a wedding celebration spliced together with images of brutal executions conducted by Zus
compares unfavorably to the closing sequence of The Godfather.

When "Defiance" isn't trying to buff out motivation with bloated dialogue, it's quite successful observing brutal wartime
suffering, balancing out the bleakness of history with extended scenes of Jewish compassion and bickering community
interaction. Jews kicking ass. "Defiance" has a little more on its plate than simple heroics, but the violence, the sheer
aggression, is one of the lone qualities that separate this Edward Zwick film from the average television movie. A respectable
shot at a Holocaust story with uplifting qualities and plump moral questioning, "Defiance" is a handsome production, just not
Jamie Bell and Daniel Craig - Defiance
Daniel Craig & Liev Schreiber - Defiance
Defiance movie poster
an especially inspiring one. With a surprising
amount of chase (effectively turning Tuvia into a
Moses-like character) and bullet-happy combat
sequences to showcase the tenacity of the
Bielskis, "Defiance" keeps its blood boiling right to
the end.While the flood of temper and R-rated
vengeance is unique to behold, "Defiance" fails to
solidify as an engrossing, emotional motion
picture. "Defiance" is a good film, just not the
great one it could have been and, I think,
desperately wanted to be.

Photos of the real Bielskis that run under the end
credits tell a different tale and was one of the
more interesting parts of the film.