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Four Jewish brothers living in Nazi occupied Poland escape into the forest where they join up with Russian resistance fighters in battling the Nazis. Throughout the war they built a village inside the forest and saved the lives of more than 1200 other Jews. Based on a true story.
Three ferociously committed actors fill the roles of the Bielski brothers, Jewish partisans who escaped into the forests of Eastern Europe during the Second World War. Daniel Craig (taking a break from 007 duty) is Tuvia, the leader of a group of refugees who eventually number over a thousand; Liev Schreiber is Zus, the antagonistic warrior; and Jamie Bell is Asael, a peacemaker no less devoted to the survival of the community. The three performers give life to director Edward Zwick's account of this little-known chapter of Jewish resistance to the Holocaust, which otherwise plays more like a history lesson than a full-blooded movie. The film's best achievement is its strong location work, in Lithuania--as the community makes its home in the forest, the landscape becomes an important player in the drama at hand, and the changing of the seasons is charted with bone-chilling detail. Schreiber manages to get a little wry humor into this otherwise sober enterprise, and Daniel Craig creates an unusual character: a sort of anti-Bond, a hero whose body is all too fallible and whose decision-making is sometimes hesitant or morally compromised. It's a rare hero in a World War II movie that tends to withdraw from scenes rather than stride into them, but that's what Craig does. More than likely, the movie's main achievement will be sending the curious to read the histories of the Bielski brothers and why they matter in the chronicles of the Holocaust. --Robert Horton
Stills from Defiance (Click for larger image)
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- Return to the Forest: The Making of Defiance
- Children of The Otriad: The Families Speak
- Bielski Partisan Survivors
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Another worthy scene shows the Jewish camp members in the forest, the women and old men, mostly, beat a German soldier prisoner to death as he begs for his life. Daniel Craig's character watches but does not interfere. He does not agree with the action, but he understands their profound rage. The Russian commander of a partisan group with whom the brothers are cooperating is also terrific as a morally gray man in an impossible command situation. He will happily drink with you or shoot you with equal aplomb. It's your call.
There are some "big picture" scenes also, in particular one in the ghetto in the beginning of the film where one of the Jewish leaders declines an opportunity to escape to the forest. "The Germans need us to work," he argues. "Things are bad, but they can't kill us, they need us!" His profound failure of imagination is impressive.
Daniel Craig plays a man who is doing a task he didn't ask for, and shows a great range of strength and fragility. Liev Schreiber his brother who is more inclined to fight alongside the Russians than hide in the woods and whose character is less nuanced than Craig's, but in the end blood wins.
This is an important film both because of its quality and because it really helps explain how things went so wrong for the Jews in Europe during the time of the Nazis. i should mention that the action sequences are very well done and realistic, as are the technical aspects.
Still one of the better examples of the Holocaust genre.
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