Defiance Review
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It never ceases to amaze me that filmmakers are still able to make movies about the Second World War. You’d think that, after all these years, they would have run out of stories to tell. But, obviously, there are still a few stories left to tell—like the true story of the Bielski brothers in writer/director Edward Zwick’s latest, Defiance.

In the early days of the WWII, the German army marched into Belarussia, killing tens of thousands of Jews. While many of the remaining Jews stayed in their villages, awaiting their fate, the four surviving Bielskis escaped to a nearby forest to hide. There, they found others—men, women, and children who had fled their homes to avoid certain death.

As the group of Jewish survivors begins to grow, Tuvia (Daniel Craig) steps up and takes charge, setting up rules for the community. They aren’t animals, he explains, so they won’t act like animals. They won’t kill—and they’ll get their food and supplies only from those who can afford to give. But problems soon arise with Tuvia’s brother, Zus (Liev Schreiber), who doesn’t want to follow the rules. Instead, he leaves camp, choosing to join the Red Army. But as Tuvia and the others battle their first winter in the forest, Zus begins to reconsider his decision to leave what’s left of his family behind.

  
 
Defiance is a rare find among WWII films—because it offers some hope. Yes, the people in the Bielskis’ camp faced more than their share of hardships. They battled the elements and each other. They were often hungry, and they were often on the run. Some got sick, and some died. Still, they were strong. They refused to go quietly—and they helped each other through the hardships. And audiences can watch their story play out and allow themselves to care about the characters without that feeling of dread that comes from knowing from the beginning (as with Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie) that the characters are doomed.

Like a 20th-century Underground Railroad, this wandering band of smugglers and intellectuals, watchmakers and nurses, tells another side of the story—a refreshingly hopeful and even inspirational side. And while it may not be as unforgettably gut-wrenching as other Holocaust films, it’s moving and powerful in its own way. Zwick fills the film with memorable images that, at times, seem to symbolically connect Tuvia and the others to Moses and the Israelites, who wandered through the desert to escape slavery in Egypt.

In addition to a surprisingly moving story and powerful imagery, though, Defiance also boasts impressive performances—from Schreiber and Jamie Bell (who plays younger brother Asael) but most notably from Craig. He plays strong and determined Tuvia almost effortlessly, managing to speak with an accent (without overdoing it) while performing the role with James-Bond-like restraint (which, incidentally, hasn’t actually come through in his two outings as the new, edgier 007).

When you think of Holocaust films, words like “uplifting” and “inspirational” don’t often come to mind—but Defiance is both…and more. It’s a moving story of determination and perseverance in the midst of dire circumstances.


Blu-ray Review:
The extras on the Defiance Blu-ray release couldn’t be more appropriate—because, for the most part, they only add to the emotion and the sense of hope that the film itself presents.

Extras include the old standbys—like two trailers and a commentary with Zwick. There’s also an approximately 30-minute making-of feature, which gives an overview of the filmmaking process, focusing on the incredible attention to detail that was paid to everything from the costumes to the languages that were spoken throughout the film. There’s also an additional feature that covers the film’s violin-based score.

If you only have time to watch a feature or two, though, be sure to watch Children of the Otriad, a powerful and moving feature, in which the Bielskis’ children and grandchildren tell their family’s story. It also includes stills and home movies of Tuvia and Zus and their families through the years. And if you’ve got a couple of minutes to spare, watch Bielski Partisan Survivors, a short slideshow of director Edward Zwick’s black and white photography of several of the survivors. Both features are beautiful reminders of the true story that inspired the film—and the impact it’s had on thousands of lives.

So, after watching Defiance, be sure to check out at least a couple of the extras—because they complement the film perfectly.

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