Director: Edward Zwick
Cast: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell, Alexa Davalos, Mia Wasikowska
Synopsis: During World War II, Belarussian Jews are hunted down by German patrols. A group of brothers, the Bielskis, hide in the forest, protecting a large band of their Jewish kin from 1941 until the war’s end. This film depicts their true story.
A review by Film Nerd.
Upon the realisation that there are still untold stories like this from World War II, it almost seems ridiculous that fictional films are still being made about the period. That is not to deny the power and impact of many of these fictional WWII films, however with true stories like this left in oblivion, it is a crime they are not being told.
What these men achieved is beyond belief. Tuvia (Craig), Zus (Schreiber) and Asael Bielski (Bell) never set out to be heroes, their only goal was survival. The fact that they managed to do so under the circumstances they were in is incredible enough. Hidden in the forest, food scarce, and constantly being hunted, they somehow managed to remain ahead of their pursuers. But they also were unwilling to see fellow Jews suffer, and so they led a band of 1200 Jewish men women and children. They made camps, established defences, and survived.
Once again, the parallels with Glory, The Last Samurai, and Blood Diamond are obvious, tracking the fate of a marginalised people in a war-torn nation. However, it remains different to all of these films. Even though there is yet another scene depicting training in fire-arms, it remains fresh in comparison to those Zwick has directed before. The general tone of the film is different too. These people were not trained to fight, they were no soldiers, separating it from both Glory and Samurai. It also lacks the darkness of Blood Diamond, the take home message being one of inspiration and hope as opposed to shame and despair.
The performances are each and every one of them brilliant. Craig has alway been a true chameleon long before his association with 007, and that talent is once again on show here. Schreiber I have rarely seen give anything less than a top performance, also being one of the better elements of X-men Origins: Wolverine, which was released the same year. Jamie Bell in the past I have found hit and miss, but here he convincingly traverses a character arc from naiveté through to a silent but undeniable strength.
If the film does have a flaw, it is in pacing. Sometimes scenes of building camp and debating the next course of action can get a little tedious. Also, when some of these decisions are made, they do not sit comfortably with the viewer. That said, it is entirely feasible that each of these moments would genuinely portray the hardships being experienced by these survivors. So, though it may detract from the point of view of narrative at times, it does lend a realism to the setting.
This however is the type of film I keep returning to Zwick to see more of. It had a limited release in Australia at cinemas, so it would not be surprising if much of the Australian public missed out on this one. Hunt it down on DVD though, you will be glad you did.
4 stars (out of a possible 5)
Defiance on IMDB
Defiance on Rotten Tomatoes