Written by Pirata Hermosa
The first thing that jumped to mind after seeing Defiance was that it was not at all what I expected. Instead of an action-packed film about a man who ran an underground railroad during World War II, it ended up being more of a wilderness survival movie.
Four brothers find themselves on the run from the war when Germany invades their country and begins slaughtering the Jews. Tuvia Bielski (Daniel Craig) and his brother Zus (Live Schrieber) return to the family home to check on their parents and siblings. When they arrive, they find that everyone has been slaughtered with the exception of their two younger brothers Asael (Jamie Bell), and Aron (George MacKay).
Having nowhere else to go, the four head into the nearby forest where they have spent many hours over the years. But they aren’t the only ones who seek refuge in the forest. As more and more Jews flee persecution, they come to the Bielskis for safety. Slowly their group, or Otriad as it is called, begins to grow.
Tuvia finds that he cannot turn anyone away, while Zus wants to turn them all away. Not only is there not enough food for everyone, but Zus is more interested in taking out his revenge on the Germans and the Russians who sold out their family.
There are a few really good action scenes in the film, like when Tuvia goes to the home of the officer who killed his parents and returns the favor, and the ending battle with a tank.
Unfortunately, the action is few and far between. The rest of the film is mostly about building shelters, rationing food, and surviving illnesses. There are a few entertaining discussions between intellectual types as the Ortriad struggles to become a community. A few romances begin to develop, but they are based more on the need for survival than they are love. It is interesting to see how these people managed to survive several years and cope with adversity, but it plays out pretty dry. Even the lead character, Tuvia, is a little dull.
The one character that brings life and some measure of excitement to the film is Zus. He is bold, full of bravado, and steals every scene he is in. This same brashness causes some conflict between the two brothers and results in Zus leaving to join the Russian army. The Russian army is a ragtag group of fighters themselves, who will take anyone with a gun. They welcome Zus and the handful of men he brought with him, but end up treating them like second-class citizens because they are Jewish.
The overall feel and look of the film is excellent. Everything appears authentic, and the special effects are not overdone as they are in a lot of films. It has a gritty earthiness and is worth seeing because of its historical significance and the simple fact that the Bielskis manage to save 1,200 people. While this might make for a good television program on the History Channel, it just doesn’t quite have enough energy to make for a successful motion picture.
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES
1. Directory Commentary by Edward Zwick.
2. "Return to the Forest: The Making of Defiance" features behind-the-scenes interviews with cast and crew.
3. "Children of the Otriad" -Tuvia and Zus’ children and grandchildren speak about the stories they heard and talk about what kind of men the Bielski brothers truly were. It’s nice to see what the real Bielskis looked like and what became of them after the war. The stories that the children tell are a nice addition to the DVD, and make their adventures seem even more important knowing that the 1,200 people they helped to survive now have 19,000 descendants.
4. "Bielski Partisan Survivors" - a short black-and-white montage of recent photographs of the surviving members of the Bielski Otriad, taken in November of 2008