"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"
Standard but worthy Holocaust drama
Turfseer | New York, N.Y. | 03/14/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"**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.
Great movie! R rating undeserved
R. Plemmons | Texas, United States | 01/18/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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."
A simple story about large issues in difficult times
H. Schneider | window seat | 01/03/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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)."
Dave Hart | Farmingdale, NY-USA | 01/17/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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."