Daniel Craig (James Bond: "Quantum of Solace") stars as Tuvia Bielski, an ordinary citizen turned hero, in this action-packed epic of family, honor, vengeance and salvation. Defiance is a riveting adventure that showcases the extraordinary true story of the Bielski brothers, simple farmers –outnumbered and outgunned- who turned a group of war refugees into powerful freedom fighters. Tuvia, along with his unyielding brother, Zus (Liev Schreiber, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine"), motivate hundreds of civilians to join their ranks against the Nazi regime. Their “Inspirational story”* is a true testament to the human spirit.
“Defiance” isn’t your typical Holocaust movie- this is a film where you’ll see the Jews take up arms and resist their German enemies. Based on a true story, it tells of how a community of 1,200 Jews, led by the Bielski brothers, hid in the heavily wooded area of what is now Belarus to escape capture and extermination by the Germans.
And what a breath of fresh air it is, departing from the usual crop of Oscar baiters out to pander to audiences’ sympathies by portraying the Jews as hapless and helpless. “Defiance” is a film that while acknowledging their sufferings, also honours their resourcefulness, their heroism, and their fortitude.
Indeed, under the hands of veteran director Edward Zwick, “Defiance” is a compelling story that will engage you from start to finish. Zwick is a filmmaker accustomed to painting history’s epic moments on a lush cinematic canvas, and here he brings his skills to what is essentially an intimate story of resilience and determination in the midst of persecution.
From the get-go, Zwick, who co-wrote the screenplay, displays a firm grasp of the material, steadily focusing his film on the story of the three Bielski brothers- the stoic leader Tuvia (Daniel Craig), the impulsive hothead Zus (Liev Schreiber) and the resourceful thinker Asael (Jamie Bell). Their differing personalities almost guarantees that they will clash, and clash they do- Tuvia’s resolve to stay and protect the community of survivors with them at odds with Zus’ determination to go out and hunt down the Germans.
Their fraternal conflict is aided by great acting from leads Craig and Schreiber. The two are wonderful actors in their own right and here they play off beautifully against each other, their verbal and physical sparring engrossing to watch. Jamie Bell (aka Billy Elliott) is also a delightful surprise, holding his own as the youngest caught between his two older brothers, the voice of reason mediating between Tuvia and Zus.
Even as the multitude of characters starts building, Zwick capably handles their characterization. Through the day to day living of the community, Zwick introduces us to the lives of the people forced by circumstance to adapt to a livelihood fraught with anxiety, fear and uncertainty. The threat lies as much outside as it does within, especially given the self-centredness of certain individuals inside their group.
But as his filmography of Glory, Legends of the Fall and The Last Samurai shows, Zwick is not a man of subtlety and there are certain sequences in “Defiance” that would definitely benefit with a more generous dose of it. As well-intentioned as his Old Testament allegory is, Zwick lets it known with a heavy hand- his allusion of Tuvia leading the Jews to safety as Moses led the people of Egypt especially jarring.
Fortunately, the story at the heart of “Defiance” is one whose strengths are more than enough to overcome the minor weaknesses of Zwick’s storytelling. Accompanied by James Newton Howard’s evocative score and Eduardo Serra’s beautiful cinematography, “Defiance” is still a stirring portrait of man’s tenacity and willpower in the face of danger and evil.
SPECIAL FEATURES :
Audio Commentary by Edward Zwick: Director Edward Zwick makes a fairly interesting accompaniment to a behind-the-scenes look at the movie. Listening to him, you can probably guess most if it was scripted beforehand so this lacks the spontaneity of most other commentaries.
Defiance Return to the Forest: This featurette delves into the inspiration behind the movie, as well as much of the shooting process of the film, through interviews with director Zwick, co-screenwriter Clayton Frohman, producer Pieter Jan Brugge and the major cast and crew members.
Children of the Otraid: If you want to know more about Tuvia, Zus and Asael, the three Bielski brothers, this featurette should pretty much satisfy your curiosity. It features interviews with the descendants of the Bielski brothers- sons, daughters and even grandchildren.
Scoring Defiance: A rare peek into how James Newton Howard came up with the evocative score of the film, especially with Joshua Bell’s soulful and stirring violin sounds.
Bielski Partisan Survivors: A brief 2-min presentation of photos taken by Edward Zwick of the remaining survivors from the Bielski camp.
Excellent visual transfer brings out the light and dark, as well as the colours, of the film nicely. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track also works especially well during the action scenes.
by Gabriel Chong
Posted on 13 July 2009