Defiance (2008)

DVD Cover (Paramount)
Resistance Film, War, War Drama
Edward Zwick Edward Zwick
Daniel Craig Daniel Craig
Liev Schreiber Liev Schreiber
Jamie Bell Jamie Bell
Alexa Davalos Alexa Davalos
Allan Corduner Allan Corduner

7.2 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by bluemeanie
Added: January 13, 2009
Let's forget the fact that "Defiance" is just another in a long line of Holocaust films. Let's forget the fact that "Defiance" attempts to tell a story that has never really been told before. Let's concentrate on Edward Zwick, the director. Every film he makes is pretty much the same as the one before. His films are always about 'a band of brave men and women who do battle with an evil force'. Take "Blood Diamond" or "The Last Samurai" or "The Siege" or "Glory" - the same films - just insert new antagonists and protagonists and an overwhelming dramatic score. Edward Zwick films are supposed to be rousing and supposed to be both solid popcorn flicks as well as cultural lessons. "Defiance" is one of his most disappointing films. I wanted to like it - I really did. I can't fault the cast and I can't fault the technical aspects of the production. I think, on the whole, it was reasonably well directed and put together. It just didn't engage me. I understand that the story told in "Defiance" has never been told before, but that doesn't make it interesting. How many times have we heard about a brave group of Jewish heroes banning together to stand up against the Nazis? Compared to a film like "Schindler's List", what does a film like "Defiance" hope to accomplish, other that mindless amusement. And in that mindless amusement, the film almost feels a little insulting to me.

This particular Holocaust story takes place after the Nazi occupation of Poland. A group of survivors scatter to the surrounding woods, where there meet up with others who have managed to evade the Nazis. Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Live Schrieber) and Asael (Jamie Bell) are the Bielski Brothers, who wind up becoming leaders of the Jewish resistance in the woods, hiding from the Nazis and doing whatever they can to assist the local Russian resistance also hiding out in the woods. The film follows this group of refugees over the course of years as they hide out in the woods, build new lives for themselves and take in anyone who comes along. There is also some sibling rivalry between Tuvia and Zus - Tuvia is looked at as the leader of the Otriad, while Zus is envious and eventually leaves the camp to join the Russian resistance. Of course the Nazis find them out in the end and there is a battle between the Jewish refugees and the Nazi soldiers. Of course some of the most beloved characters in the film perish. And of course there is some unexpected 'save the day' moment at the end. I don't think that is giving anything away - this is an Edward Zwick film and that's what happens. He always has a way of giving a happy ending to a very tragic circumstance and maybe that is what bothers me. Life is messy. The Holocaust was horrible. No sugar needed.

What bothered me the most about this film was how conventional the story was and how straight-forward the approach turned out to be. To be an original and untold story, it was filled with cliché and syrupy sentimentality that was unnecessary. No one denies how awful the Holocaust was, so portray it as such. Spielberg did it with "Schindler's List" and it worked. Ultimately, Benigni did it with "Life Is Beautiful". I don't want to see the Holocaust portrayed like some movie of the week. I guess I just have a hard time seeing a bunch of Jewish refugees, basically waiting in the woods to die, could be so jovial and so warmhearted and be worried about 'forest wives' and things of that matter. I understand they were trying to rebuild their lives and communities, but you have to think most of that was exaggerated or just fabricated. The best moment in the film comes when the Rabbi is praying to god to choose another people and to leave them alone. That seemed more in keeping with what I would expect from a situation like that. And there is this 'ridiculous' logic that they can keep traveling through the woods and everything will be all right. Of course they were up against the Nazis, who weren't exactly the brightest bulbs in the chandeliers. At the end of the day, "Defiance" was just another run of the mill drama/thriller. I didn't really identify with anyone in the film and I really didn't grow much affection for any of these characters. I thought they were all ruthless and all a little short-sighted in what they were doing. I am sure they are heroes for doing it and I'm not denying the bravery, but there was also a little selfishness therein.

At least they gave the accents a shot, unlike "Valkyrie". And they succeeded. Daniel Craig is not an actor I love on screen, but he does a decent enough job here as the leader of the resistance. Jamie Bell, who is always just adorable, does a nice job also in his role, though he's kind of stiff and wooden throughout. Liev Schrieber is easily the most accomplished in this film and he does a lot with his role. We actually see some depth and development with Zus that we don't see with the others. I thought his relationship with his brother was interesting and his attitude towards the whole situation was more representative of how I thought it should be. I didn't, however, really feel enough chemistry between any of the three of them to believe they were brothers. It just seemed like they were family out of convenience, not blood. But I do applaud the decision to go with accents. I think they add so much, especially to a film like this and ditching the accents for a neutral British or English just doesn't work for me. And I will say that I got a little annoyed that it seemed to take forever for this group of people to make the decision to go wading through the water. You've got Nazi soldiers coming up behind you waiting to kill you. Jump in the damned water. I mean - seriously?

I do not recommend "Defiance". It's nothing special. It's run-of-the-mill and just like every other Holocaust film that also wants to serve as a popcorn experience. Just go out and rent "Schindler's List" again. Or, if you want a better Holocaust film from this year, check out "The Reader" or "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas". This one just doesn't measure up to those. I am sure there were many acts of 'defiance' during the Holocaust and I'm sure many of them make fascinating stories, but I think they need to be handled with more levity and more attention than "Defiance". I blame Edward Zwick somewhat because he needs to start doing more to separate his films. Just because they're about different subject matters doesn't mean they aren't the same. And now, the worst moment in the film: It comes when Daniel Craig's character confronts a refugee who has been asking for more food - he thinks soldiers deserve more food. What Craig's character does makes you lose all respect and sympathy for him. The man makes sense. A soldier might need more food. I don't think it's too 'out there' a request. To enjoy "Defiance" requires an immense understanding of the whole 'eye for an eye' mentality and the idea that anything goes as long as it comes from the person in charge.

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