271 of 295 people found the following review helpful
One wonders why it took so long to tell the story of the three Bielski brothers, who managed to save the lives of 1200 Jews during the Nazi Holocaust in World War II. My personal answer is that they didn't have anyone near the caliber of Daniel Craig to play the part of Tuvia.
The story opens with the Bielski brothers Tuvia (Craig) and Zus (Liev Schreiber) returning to the family farm to discover the Germans killed their parents. They find their younger brother, Asael (Jamie Bell) hiding from the slaughter in a cellar.
They decide to go to the forest to hide out. It's initially pure happenstance that they run into other refugees, but as the story progresses, they have a community from philosophers to warriors.
It's fascinating to see the community grow and the harsh realities of living under the Nazi radar. The images in this film will haunt me as strongly as the original newsreel "Let my People Go" did when I saw it in junior high.
In my opinion, "Defiance" is one of the top films of this year and I hope it earns the awards it deserves. The film is excellent for students of Jewish history, psychology, and community development. It's well worth full price in the theatre and adding to your collection.
Rebecca Kyle, February 2009
93 of 99 people found the following review helpful
on October 11, 2010
There is a myth, long-standing, that the Jews of Europe submitted passively to their fate at the hands of the Nazis and their willing helpers during World War II. According to this myth, Jewish resistance to the Holocaust did not exist, except perhaps in the Warsaw Ghetto, an anomalous, dramatic exception to a nightmarish reality in which Jews blandly climbed on board trains to be taken to unspeakable places to face an unspeakable fate.
Fortunately, that myth is being exploded sixty years after the fact, and DEFIANCE, the story of the Bielski Partisans, is part of that process. The Bielski Partisans were led by the brothers Tuvia, Zus, Asael and Aron, Jews from White Russia (now Belarus), who took to the woods after their village was targeted by the Einsatzkommando "B", an SS killing corps.
Many Jews, in fact, fled to the woods, and Jewish Resistance arose in many places throughout Europe. The Bielski experience in the dense Naliboki Forest is paradigmatic. The Jews of city and town, often tradesmen, small business owners, or scholar/intellectuals, were generally ill-equipped for the rough life of forest-dwellers. In this regard, the Bielskis, whose father had been a countryman, were peculiarly suited to lead. Having grown up in and around the woods and with a familiarity with tools and weapons, they became not only protectors but teachers in the art of survival.
Tuvia (Daniel Craig) became the leader, quiet, intense, sincere, and often in a quandry both moral and practical. How does one lead men, and care for women and children in conditions of deprivation? How and when does a leader lead or let himself be guided? How does a leader, as an authority, assert that authority?
Tuvia "would rather save one old Jewish woman than kill a dozen Nazis," but he is no milquetoast. He takes vengeance on the local Russian officer responsible for killing his parents. Nazis paid a bounty to those who betrayed their Jewish neighbors. Jews were worth 500 rubles a head, a small fortune to many starving peasants. Much later, he settles a challenge to his leadership from within by executing the mutineer.
Craig, known for his role as James Bond, really shows that his talents are wasted as the suave British spy. As Tuvia Bielski, he shines, an ordinary man called upon to do extraordinary things.
His younger, bigger, tougher brother, Zus (Liev Schreiber) is a firebrand. Although the Bielski Partisans engage small "hunting parties" in firefights, Zus believes the battle can be better fought on a larger scale, and joins the Red Partisans. Unfortunately, anti-Semitism within the Soviet ranks makes him an outsider, and he eventually returns to his brothers.
Schrieber, whose physical presence is imposing, plays Zus by tapping into some deep reservoir of anger within himself. It's an impressive performance, by far the strongest in the film.
Asael is younger, as is Aron, and both younger brothers dedicate themselves to forming a structured community for the growing forest community, establishing schools for the children, an infirmary for the ill, workshops for non-combatants, where they repaired rifles, loaded cartridges, sewed clothing, and built shelters and bunkers, and foraging parties that collected (by hook or by crook) food, tools, and other necessaries from the locals.
There are a number of large-scale battles between the German Army (supplied with tanks, machine guns and half-tracks) and the woefully underarmed Bielskis, which the Partisans, impossibly, win. Most of these battles have been "amplified" by the screenwriters for dramatic impact.
In all, some 1,200 Jews survived the war with the Bielski brothers. Asael Bielski was not among them. This film sheds light on a little-known chapter of the Holocaust, a chapter which had its counterparts in and around Kovno, Vilna, Warsaw, Lodz, Kiev, and in Western Europe as well.
This story, though it took place in Belarus, was filmed just across the border in Lithuania due to political reasons. As my father was a survivor of the Shoah from Lithuania, I was particularly interested in experiencing the views of the Lithuanian countryside this film provided.
127 of 150 people found the following review helpful
on March 14, 2009
**This review contains spoilers**
By necessity, one must focus on the survivors if one wishes to create a workable film about the Holocaust. For its only through the eyes and ears of the survivors (and their tales of suffering) that we can appreciate the enormity, the scope of what occurred to the victims of the Holocaust. Paradoxically, the tales of the survivors are nothing more than anomalies--which may give the wrong impression to the uninformed that the Holocaust was an ennobling event--that these tales of survival were somehow the rule rather than the exception.
Defiance is one such anomalous tale. Some critics have likened it to a critique of Jewish passivity--that the overwhelming majority of Jews went to their deaths without putting up a fight. And certainly that reputation is reinforced in 'Defiance' as the protagonists, Tuvia and Zus Bielski, stand out as Jewish outsiders who aren't afraid to fight the Nazis as opposed to the majority of the Jewish 'intellectuals', mostly freshly minted refugees from the ghetto, who end up as part of the Bielski 'community' within the Byelorussian forest.
But there is an excellent scene in Defiance, where Tuvia sneaks into the ghetto and confronts the head of the Jewish committee there, that demonstrates that the average Jew was not passive--simply bewildered and overwhelmed. Can you really blame the head of the Jewish committee when he doesn't believe Tuvia's tales of genocide? He says, 'yes, we've heard these stories, but who can really believe them?' Reports of atrocities reached the United States during the War but they were not really appreciated until the actual newsreel photos of truckloads of emaciated bodies were seen being bulldozed into ditches at Bergen-Belsen after the war was over.
The opening scenes of 'Defiance' are testament to the brutally swift nature of the Nazi genocide. In most cases, there was simply no time to think about resisting (or escaping). The Nazis came in, along with the help of the local authorities in the occupied territories and murdered the Jews in the blink of an eye. We see this very effectively illustrated in 'Defiance' after the Bielskis find their parents murdered on the family farm.
One of the picture's strengths is that it also illustrates the role of the local collaborators who assisted the Nazis. In a dazzlingly effective scene, Tuvia takes revenge by shooting the local police chief and his sons after they've murdered his parents. The collaborators aren't seen as monsters--quite the contrary, in a humanized portrait, the police chief begs for his life and insists he was forced to act at the bidding of his superiors in the Nazi occupation force (in an earlier scene, the police chief comes to a farm looking for one of the Bielski brothers who hides in a barn after attacking a group of Nazis--here the police chief is much more crass and arrogant--but still all too human!).
Nonetheless, Zwick, the film's director, should have had another scene involving the collaborators to balance out the 'sympathetic' portrait. The truth of the matter was that there were other of these local collaborators who were outright sadists, capable of incomprehensible, monstrous acts of brutality. Similarly, Zwick shows us a group of Jews in the forest who end up savagely beating a captured German soldier to death (despite his cries that he has a wife and children). While such acts of revenge did occur, it's hard to appreciate the context for their actions (it would have been better if Zwick had actually shown the Bielski parents, for example, being murdered and not merely the aftermath).
A good deal of 'Defiance' explores the conflict between the two brothers. Tuvia is the pragmatic one who comes to accept his role as a new 'Moses', leading his beleaguered group of 'intellectuals' to safety through the forest. At first he has only contempt for his fellow Jews who he regards as cowardly and passive. But as time passes, they earn his respect as they all become more proactive. Zus, on the other hand, wants to take direct action against the Nazis and joins the Soviet partisans as one of their fighters. I thought that the characterization of the Russians was one of the strongest parts of the movies. They are depicted sympathetically--shown both for their courage and brutality (Zus eventually leaves the partisans after he can no longer tolerate their anti-semitic stance).
A good part of 'Defiance' is taken up showing life in the forest camp. The characterizations are a mixed bag. Some of the characters are standard 'types' (the debate between the 'intellectual' vs. the 'spiritual' Jew is one such example). There are some good scenes depicting the malnourishment that the community had to endure along with a few obligatory romances. One scene I had a hard time believing was when Tuvia kills one of the food hunters who insists that his group gets extra portions of rations. Did that really happen? I'm not sure but it made for good drama.
I like Daniel Craig in this role a lot more than as James Bond; he gives a solid performance as an unlikely savior for his people. And Lev Schreiber is excellent as the tough as nails partisan who eventually reunites with his brother after a fractured relationship.
Defiance's final scene focuses on the community battling and defeating a large group of Nazi soldiers backed up by a tank. I'm told that this is what actually happened but the way the whole thing is staged seemed a little hard to believe. Nonetheless, Defiance is a film that will keep you absorbed from the opening credits. As a little known history lesson, it does its job. And certainly it was a worthy project to commemorate the deeds of the heroic Bielski brothers.
126 of 151 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2009
Story about Jews fleeing Nazi death squads in Belorussia who fight back against their occupiers and survive for years in forest hideouts. Very moving story and quite well-acted. The R rating is mind-boggling. I've seen PG-13 movies with more graphic violence. The profanity is sparse and never gratuitous. An excellent history lesson for teenagers, but the rating will keep many of them away (along with some adults). In the current climate of rising anti-Semitism and holocaust revisionism, this movie is unlikely to win awards, but it should.
35 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2009
Belorussia in 1941. Germans and local collaborators hunt Jews. The Bielski brothers, in civilian times apparently not really choir boys, escape into the forests and attract followers, other refugees, who are desperate for help. A camp in the forest, an unsteady symbiosis with Russian troops nearby. Raids for food can't avoid getting noticed by the German army, whose attacks follow; the camp has to run. The refugees find another location for a camp. Apparently based on true events.
The film is about big subjects: strategy, leadership, discipline, solidarity. No surprises,just basic constellations and human conflicts. Wonderful cinematography. Solid work by Mr.Zwick (who apparently has a personal relation to the real Bielskis; family?). Good show by Mr.James Bond as Tuvia Bielski; the other actors do well too (but I don't know them).
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
This brilliant movie tells the true story of the Bielski partisans -- a band of Jewish survivors who hid in the forests of Belorussia during World War II and fought the Nazis.
It comes with all the bells and whistles of a classic war movie but it's so much more that that -- this is a movie with many important moral messages to impart about survival, commmunity, human dignity and resistance.
Daniel Craig gives a powerful performance as Tuvia Bielski, the group's leader -- all the more powerful for its understatement. Liev Schreiber is just as good as his brother Zus, who wants only to fight and kill to avenge the awful personal losses the family has endured.
If this were only a movie about men fighting a vastly superior force, it would be incredible enough. But Tuvia Bielski opened his camp to all survivors -- the old, the young, the sick, women, children. No-one was turned away. It's amazing to contemplate how they survived two bitter Russian winters with little or no food. Yet by the time of the liberation, they were running a school in the middle of the forest.
Incredibly, the brothers managed to save the lives of 1,200 people. Today, some 19,000 people are alive who would not have been were it not for their heroism.
There are many exciting battle scenes and tender love scenes and interesting secondary characters -- but the central metaphor comes when the band of refugees is forced to flee German armor and air power and find themselves wading through a massive swamp, holding on to each other's belts. It's an image that looks back to the exodus from Egypt -- although one of the brothers states that God will not save them this time and will not part the waters. Only by employing their own strength, determination and persistence will they survive.
In another painful scene, a German soldier is captured and then bludgeoned to death. Tuvia Bielski does not try to intervene. He understands that although he aspires to a higher moral standard, the cry for revenge among people who have been reduced by their enemies to animals, have been mistreated, humiliated and degraded and have seen their loved ones massacred cannot be appeased without blood. It is also an acknowledgment that to fight a monstrous force like Nazi Germany, a certain brutal ruthlessness is sometimes required.
The extra features on this DVD include interviews with family members of the Bielskis, who went on to build lives in the United States and some haunting photographs of survivors by director Edward Zwick.
See this movie. It's an amazing story that will change your perceptions of the Holocaust.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2010
I was completely unaware of this chapter of WWII history.
Having recently watched this movie with my 14-year old son, I found it quite moving. My son is in a 'guns-are-awesome' period, and I think this movie (thankfully) put a slight damper on his ardor. For me, I haven't been this haunted by a movie since I saw "Platoon" in college in the late '80's. (Not a bad thing to be haunted by a movie, methinks.)
While I'm sure this movie is far from accurate (the final scene with the tank was a bit over-the-top), the gift this movie gives is bringing the story of these Polish survivors to the world. The acting was first rate ... I very much enjoyed watching the brothers interact with each other. Hollywood machismo was (happily!) tossed aside here. These brothers struggle, cry, disagree, reunite, fight, embrace and kiss.
How wonderful to see movie stars act like real men for a change. Daniel Craig, for instance, was so much more three dimensional in this movie than in any of his Bond films (films which are fun to watch when you're in the mood for such things. They are just more 2 dimensional).
I think this would be an excellent film for college and groups for discussion of community and honor and right choices ... and so much more. My son and I watched this movie on DVD. There were several places where we stopped the movie and had interesting, "Ok, you are Tuvia. What would you do right now?" conversations. (My son puts up with a lot from me. ;-D)
I certainly intend on reading the book to learn more about these brave people who lived in the woods for over 2 years to escape the horrors of the Holocaust.
18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2009
AWESOME! One of the absolute best war flicks i've ever seen, and a true story to boot. I was riveted in my seat for 2+ hours! And i cried too. Go see this movie if you want to feel alive and learn something historical and worthwhile.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This is a great movie. It is a story that should be told and should be known by everyone. The acting was also good. However, I was left somewhat unsatisfied. I thought after seeing it that more should have been told about how the brothers fought against the Nazis, rather than spending so much time on the rift between them. I was somewhat bothered by the jump in the story, as if the narrator was saying, "so it continued for more than a year and then..." A lot must have happened during the year. What happened? What also bothered me about this otherwise fine film, was that I remember reading that the two surviving brothers came to the US and were cab drivers, and few people knew of their remarkable history. This fact says a lot. It speaks about their humility. I was bothered that this characteristic was not in the film.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
In 2008, director Edward Zwick ("I Am Sam", "Blood Diamond", "My So-Called Life") and screenwriter Clayton Frohman adapted Holocaust scholar, Nechama Tec's book "Defiance: The Bielski Partisans". The film would feature music by well known composer and orchestrator James Newton Howard ("ER", "The Dark Knight", "Pretty Woman" and "The Sixth Sense") and cinematography by Eduardo Serra ("Blood Diamond", "Unbreakable" and "What Dreams May Come").
The film would star Daniel Craig ( "Quantum of Solace", "Casino Royale" and "Layer Cake"), Liev Schreiber ("X-Men Origins: Wolverine", "The Sum of All Fears" and "A Walk on the Moon"), Jamie Bell ("Jumper", "Flags of Our Fathers", "King Kong") and Alexa Davalos ("The Chronicles of Riddick", "The Mist" and "Angel").
"DEFIANCE" is a film which takes place during the Nazi occupation through Eastern Europe and Jews were targeted and murdered. The film is based on a true story that revolves around the Bielski brothers who helped give refuge to around 1,200 Jews and help them evade the Germans while being hunted. The brothers and the Jews which started with only a handful of people grew to over a thousand while they stayed in the Forest under harsh conditions (while being hunted) with their primary goal was to survive.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
"DEFIANCE" features awesome picture quality. The closeups on Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber show the pores and the grit while in the forest. Because the film was shot during the seasons, outdoor sunshine shots are vibrant in colors with the blue skies, green lush vegetation, while in the Winter, we are treated with blues and whites of despair. You will see plenty of detail due to the 1080p (1:78:1 aspect ratio) transfer in the film, may it be the trees, the vehicles and even the clothing and the people, "DEFIANCE" featured one of the best picture quality war films I have seen on Blu-ray yet.
As for audio, the film is presented in English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD (as well as French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital). The soundtrack features impressive action scenes as bombs utilize the low frequency sounds of the booms through the subwoofer, while gunshots galore are well delivered through the front channels. You also hear the ambiance of the forest which include the rustle of leaves, storms, birds and subtle noises around the area which can be heard quite nicely through your speakers.
Overall, there was really good delivery of audio but I didn't notice a lot of rear surround usage for the film. The film does feature crystal clear dialogue and the music of James Newton Howard does come alive in showing the desperation felt by those in the forest camp. A lot of the action sequences do happen in the final 30 minutes of the film but overall, the soundtrack was well done.
Subtitles are featured in English, English SDH, French and Spanish.
"DEFIANCE" features the following special features:
* Commentary with Director Edward Zwick - Commentary by director Edward Zwick in regards to the screenplay being written for the film, the overall production, locations of where the film was shot and behind-the-scenes on the action sequences and more.
* Defiance: Return to the Forest - (26:05) A featurette presented in High Definition that is a "making-of" for the film "DEFIANCE" and features interviews with cast and crew who talk about their characters and also about the real life characters their characters are based on.
* Children of the Otriad: The Families Speak - (13:42) A very informative featurette in High Definition as the children and the grandchildren of the Bielski brothers talk about Tuvia, Zus, Asael and Lilka. Also, about going to Lithuania and to see the set of "DEFIANCE" and then visiting the forest that their father/grandfather/grandmother were at. The granddaughter of Tuvia filming a documentary with her grandmother Lilka about growing up in the Bielsky family. And last, being reunited with some of the survivors and families of the Bielski Partisan. Because of the Bielski's, there are five generations of families and 19,000 people alive because of them.
* Scoring Defiance - (7:00) With composer/orchestrator James Newton Howard well-known for his musical work, this featurette is about Howard scoring "DEFIANCE". Working with violinist Joshua Bell. Featuring interviews with Bell and Zwick.
* Bielski Partisan Survivors - (1:58) Photo/music montage in HD of the some of the Bielski Partisan survivors take in Nov. 2008 by director Zwick.
* Theatrical Trailers - There are two theatrical trailers (2:05 and 2:28) for the film in HD.
"DEFIANCE" is definitely a powerful film and although based on a true story, the story of the Bielski brothers will now be known by a generation not too familiar with how this family of brothers helped give refuge to up to 1,200 (or more) Jews from the Holocaust. Even afterwards, the brothers never looked at themselves as heroes and kept themselves low key throughout their lifetime.
If I had one major problem with the film is similar to other war or period films based on a true story, is the need to stray away from factual events in order to create action. Granted, for me it depends on the level of exaggeration and how far it strays from factual events. I understand why the Hollywood execs want to add the action sequences, because war battles lead to ticket sales.
A film like "ENEMY AT THE GATES" had to go that direction and historians were critical for its Hollywood dramatization and the same with "DEFIANCE". According to reports, the original author of the book Nechama Lec was not too thrilled that in the film, the Bielski Partisans had to fight against German tanks, when the goal was to survive and not have head on confrontations. Polish historians were upset that the film was oversimplified and the facts that the forest were the Jewish were hiding in was in Poland and of course, anger that Bielski Partisans were not heroes but thieves who stole and badly treated Polish locals. But anger more so about the slaughters of Polish locals in the village of Naliboki which evidence has supported the murders were led by Russian partisans which many nationalists in Poland believe the Bielski's were involved (former members of Bielski's brigade and other historians have disputed this).
The director of the film, Ed Zwick has admitted that his film is not a simple fight between good and evil. In a statement, Zwick said "The Bielski's weren't saints. "They were flawed heroes, which is what makes them so real and so fascinating. They faced any number of difficult moral dilemmas that the movie seeks to dramatize: Does one have to become a monster to fight monsters? Does one have to sacrifice his humanity to save humanity?"
But the truth is that there are still many emotions that will continue no matter how many years have passed and when it comes to films in which war and crimes committed during war time, there will be some people who will think such things are justified, some who will think the opposite. There will always be people on both sides who will continue to disagree.
I can understand why the studios wanted to make certain deviations from the book to the film's final cut. Especially for a film that costs $32 million to make, people come to the box office for these action sequence and fortunately the film was able to make its money back worldwide as it made over $44 million.
For me, what I found powerful was how these brothers provided a refuge and eventually rescued 1,200 Jews and how they had to live out challenges in the Forest under the worst conditions but their will to survive kept them going, even though they were being hunted down by the Germans. There are so many war stories from the past in all parts of the world that people would have never known about and for "DEFIANCE" to get the green light to be created and in the end, to come out so fascinating and again, so powerful, I was captivated by the willingness of those who wanted to live and survive, but if they died, they died because they wanted to live and for a purpose, not to be treated like an animal.
"DEFIANCE" is one of those films that captures the persistence of the human spirit and it may have been overly simplified to be a film about surviving in the forest but it's the leadership that Daniel Craig brings to his character of Tuvia and Schreiber's Gung-Ho fight mentality for his character of Zus that makes the film quite interesting. Unfortunately, the two go separate ways and the conflict between the two brothers starts to bring more focus on the camp, while the character of Zus gets the short end of the stick and is rarely utilized throughout the film.
But the film does have its flaws but personally, I found "DEFIANCE" absolutely enjoyable and the Blu-ray release of "DEFIANCE" does feature awesome picture quality, as well as audio quality plus enjoyable special features.
Overall, "DEFIANCE" is highly recommended!