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4.3 out of 5 stars
Defiance [DVD]
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 3 February 2015
It's a great story, and it makes a good-looking movie here, with strong performances from Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, and Jamie Bell, and great location work in Eastern Europe in the forests quite near to where the actual events took place on which this story is based. The director Edward Zwick obviously likes the big historical canvas -- as in "Glory" -- and he has made a film that gestures appropriately at the kind of heroism displayed by the Bielski brothers Tuvia (Craig) and Zus (Schreiber) as they sought to protect over a thousand Jews from Nazi attacks in the Belorussian forests between 1941 and 1945. The action covers the first two years of their arboreal nomadic existence, perhaps because later Nazi attacks on their camps tapered off as German attention focused more on the Western front. The following comments list some reservations I have about the movie, but these are not meant in any way to discourage your seeing it. Rather, they indicate where Zwick (and/or his screenwriters) made what I think were some compromises with Hollywood conventions -- and maybe broader cultural conventions as well -- despite Zwick's desire to have made a movie that wasn't just "another Hollywood movie" (as he says in one of the special features).

1. The narrative sets up the brothers as types: Tuvia is the man who wants to fight the Nazis without becoming monstrous, like the Nazis. He wants to build a community and would rather die as a human being than live as an animal. Zus has no time for scruples; he just wants to fight. Both men's families have been killed, and their reactions to hearing of their respective losses cement the type difference. The movie goes on to show that one can fight without losing one's humanity, but the characterization of the brothers poses the issue too conveniently. The movie wants to respect history, and does to some extent, but can't resist the temptation, endemic to Hollywood, to shape history as moral fable. Another honorable WW2 movie, "Schindler's List," couldn't resist the temptation either.

2. Related to point 1, is the issue of the representation of the Germans. They are faceless armored men, and the scenes of their being killed by the "Bielski partisans" are perfunctory and unbloody. Zus's encounter with a German tank late in the movie is sheer Hollywood -- satisfying in a predictable way, especially because Zus, who had left his brother's camp to join a Russian partisan group that he thought more committed to fighting, returns to his brother's group and, in effect, saves the day. Let's call that trope "the prodigal returns." It's an old one.

3. There's typing within Tuvia's community. There's the secular socialist intellectual Malbin (Mark Feuerstein) and the religious, almost rabbi-like ex-teacher Haretz (Allan Corduner) who form a kind of choric commentary on the project of maintaining community and the prospects for success. Almost predictably, they learn to like one another, thus showing that moral secularism can co-exist more than comfortably with religious traditionalism. The women in the movie too are pretty typical -- they learn to be feisty and to fight like men and yet still be women. You begin to see a pattern here; contrasts of temperament, gender, belief are set up only to be transcended. We CAN all get along -- except with the faceless Nazis, of course. And the Russians that Zus joins turn out not to like Jews very much . . . and Zus realizes that his identity as a Jew matters more than he perhaps had thought earlier, when he claimed his identity as a fighter. Also, in keeping with standard typing, the youngest Bielski brother, Asael (Jamie Bell), who is too shy to talk to a girl early in the movie, is by the end a seasoned fighter, able to rally the community at just the moment when Tuvia seems ready to quit. Tuvia himself is figured explicitly as Moses -- though unlike Moses he makes it to the Promised Land.

4. I wonder -- did the movie really have to engage the question "Why didn't the Jews in Central Europe and Germany resist the Nazis?" Tuvia says explicitly at one point that he and his group are demonstrating that Jews CAN resist. The question, of course, tends to imply a criticism of the European Jews as culturally emasculated. In 2008, when the movie was released, did that slur even have to be responded to? The screenwriters obviously thought so, but really?? I mean, why didn't Protestant Germans resist en masse, for heaven's sake? To take such questions seriously is to make a judgment about your audience as historically ignorant as well as ignorant of complicated social dynamics.

These four considerations are no reason to avoid the movie. They just make the point that the movie works as much through familiar rhetoric as through the representation of actual events. And, I repeat, the film is beautifully shot and the acting is all that one could ask, given the way the narrative has been constructed. Definitely worth watching -- and see the Special Features too for some comment from the Bielski family.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 8 June 2012
I'll keep this review short and sweet (ish) -

I found the film excellent, and the story on which it is based (a true story) is genuinely moving. Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber in particular, give strong portrayals of the elder Bielski brothers, revealing a combination of courage, moral purpose and vulnerability, which seems fitting to their situation in the forest, being perennially hunted. he supporting cast are good, and the writing is fit for purpose.

I'm knocking one star off becasue this DVD is one of those that not only forces you to watch several trailers first (without being able to leap straight to the options Menu for the film itself), but it also forces you to watch an ad. If I want that, I'll happily go to the cinema, but please, don't force trailers on us in the comfort of our homes!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1941 Belorussia, fleeing from the invading Nazi forces, the Bielski brothers seek refuge out in the vast forest. As more survivors find there way into the trees, the Bielski's help to form a new community that manages to thrive in spite of the overwhelming odds against them surviving. But the brothers have different ideals, is refuge to be their main goal? Or should they be striking out against the Nazi oppressors?

Defiance is adapted from the novel Defiance: The Bielski Partisans, written by Dr. Nechama Tec. It's a stirringly emotional story that most definitely needed to be told, however the factual content of this adaptation has been called into question by many internet reviewers. It's not my particular want to delve too deep into it as I'm really only interested in the film as an experience, what isn't in doubt is that these were real people, and these incidents happened, their legacy lives on and hooray to that I say.

Defiance as a film relies more on its story than its actual people to deliver the goods, something director Edward Zwick has often been guilty of before. Not that that is a bad thing here, for the story is required to be the main character of the piece, but for sure it feels like holes are dotted throughout the 136 minute running time, justifiable revenge leanings are jettisoned in favour of the usual alternative community draw backs. All the trade marks are in here as Zwick crams them in by the reel, divided aspirations, weight of leadership, romance, jealousy and fractions within the camp, so sadly the film wrongly feels a touch shallow and not fully formed, we have as it were, seen it all before.

However, on the plus side, Defiance is not found wanting for emotional fortitude, it has it in abundance, and not the kind to make the picture sink under the weight of it all, it also has some excellently handled action sequences, something that Zwick is most definitely undervalued for. The acting is solid and totally watchable, Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and the impressive Jamie Bell play the three fighting Bielski brothers, but here lays an itch of sorts. Two Englishmen and an American playing these Eastern European characters begs one to think what the film would have been like if the leads had been played by Eastern Europeans? For I'm sure it would have had added earthy impact. Good support comes from Alexa Davalos and the ever reliable Tomas Arana, while Zwick photographer Eduardo Serra expertly brings the forest refuge vividly to life.

So all in all we are left with a film thats problems are very evident, and really this piece feels like its focus was to educate above all else. But whilst it may not be to everyone's entertainment tastes, it's one hell of a story that demands to be seen by as many people as possible. 7/10
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Edward Zwick has mastered the knack of making movies with emotional resonance, combined with well edited sequences depicting battles and action. This movie is no exception, telling the story of the three Bielski brothers in Belarus, during the Second World War. At a time when the Nazis were rounding up the Jewish families for the ghettos and concentration camps, murdering tens of thousands as they went, these brothers survived and fled into the forests they knew so well. They are an anachronism, Jews who did not share the view of the majority of peaceful resistance.. they fought for their freedom living a harsh life in the forest under constant threat.
Zwick certainly elicits some strong performances from each of the three brothers. Daniel Craig, who becomes the de facto leader - the compassionate one, and Liev Schreiber outstanding as the brother who wants to take the fight to the Germans. Jamie Bell is also good but makes less of an impact as the third and youngest brother, undergoing a loss of innocence. The satisfying part of the story is the first half as we really explore these flawed characters - unwilling leaders whose true character emerges, in spite of perceptions of others, and even perceptions they had about themselves. It never becomes dull, but it does become more `by-the-numbers' once the Germans are closing in and we get to the final battle, and things get tied up a little less ambiguously than the tone the movie starts out with.
The relationship with the Russians, what happened to those who sheltered or aided the Jewish survivors, the harshness of conditions the survivors endured and the numbing effect of the killing and futility of revenge are all ably explored. Its real resonance however, lies in the knowledge of it being a true story, portraying a side of the story of Jewish persecution in WW II that is lesser known - and an important counterpoint to the common images and tales of the period. It's just a pity that the director tells it quite so straight, using visual and audio styles and cues that feel more borrowed than original. It remains a movie that is worthwhile and well put together, even if stopping short of being a classic.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A true story that takes place in World War Two featuring three Jewish brothers who escape from Nazi-occupied Poland into the Belarussian forest, where they join Russian resistance fighters and attempt to build a village in order to protect themselves and others in danger. An unusual story too, in that for once the Jews are not portrayed as victims but as rebels, as aggressors and even as heroes. The dialogue is mainly in English but spoken with Slavic accents, although on the occasions when the brothers meet any Russians for some reason the dialogue reverts temporarily to the localised Russian dialect. Go figure.

Essentially this is a story about surviving out in the wilderness made all the more poignant by the knowledge that it is all based on fact, and many will wonder why such an extraordinary achievement had not previously been more widely known even if this is the first film to portray it. An alternative society was created and developed, a society that managed to survive against extremely harsh environmental conditions. As entertainment fare, the director Edward Zwick tries with some success to turn it into something of a 'Boys Own Adventure' in order to draw in the mainstream crowds who might otherwise have been put off by any semblance of dramatised documentary. Beyond the subject matter it's a rather unremarkable piece of work in a stylistic sense, but the underlying truth behind it is so compelling that the lasting impression is one of a stunning action movie that earns respect for being based on real-life events, even if, as action movies go, it's pretty standard fare. The main niggle for me was the slightly absurd English spoken in a foreign accent (much like the other new release The Reader); movies such as Apocalypto and The Passion of the Christ have previously demonstrated that it's possible to entertain and make money yet with the use of sub-titles and authentic language. It must be a tough decision to make but personally I prefer the 'legitimacy' of true language and would willingly tolerate the inconvenience of sub-titles in order to achieve that. The bottom line is that if you're going to make a film based on a foreign language then it should be made in that foreign language.

In the end though it's a rewarding experience and unusual for being a WW2 film in which the Jews are the heroes. Some might argue, given Daniel Craig's role and the inevitable comparisons that will be made, that DEFIANCE is a much more satisfying watch than Quantum of Solace as it offers not only exciting action but a very credible and memorable story behind the scenes.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on 19 July 2011
Again we learn the lesson here that the human spirit can never be crushed. Filmed in Lithuania very near to the original locations of events which have remained under wraps for years.

The cast list, apart from the obvious leads, reads like the Lithuanian telephone directory. This film has the smack of authenticity about it which is so often lacking in other films of this type. Maybe this was achieved by its slight understatement.
In the Bluray version one could see every pine needle, every stubbled face and every speck of dirt in the sharpest detail.

A gritty, earthy and squalid tale of the will to survive of a group of Jews in Byelorus who refused to be expunged from the face of the earth by the Nazis and their collaborators.
Daniel Craig effectively puts across the doubts which racked the leader who had the awesome responsibility of saving large numbers of Jews form extinction by organising their survival in the depths of the forest and the problems associated with managing a large group of people with minds of their own.

Particularly moving, maybe even more so than the actual film, is the documentary attached, featuring the descendants of the Bielski brotherss who led the group. They piece together the amazing modesty
and understatement of their grandparents who after the war settled in the US and made new lives for themselves. The section where these descendants visit the set as the film is being made and relive past events is particularly poignant.

If one should ever begin to find tiresome the way that Jews keep going on about the war then watch this and vow that it should never happen again.
Brilliant performance by Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and the rest of the cast.
Moving, Inspiring, Brilliant. Buy it!
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 10 November 2010
This film is the true-story of the Bielski Brothers, Tuvia (Daniel Craig) Zus(Liev Schreiber) and Asael(Jamie Bell) who initiated the movement of at first a few but later over a thousand Jewish people who were going to be immediately killed and robbed by the local Police and Germans or cleared by Nazis of their Jewish populations from their villages and sent to Concentration Camps.
The brothers led by Tuvia decided to fight back, to make a stand and although Tuvia and Zus fell out for some little time they did get back together to fight against the common enemy, the Nazis.They all lived in primitive, extremely harsh conditions and it is a credit to their faith and willpower that so many made it through the 3 or more years they had to stay where they were,starting off in the Lipiczanska Forest in Summer of 1941 then moving onto the Nalibocka Forest Camp for the Winter of '41 with little food or proper Winter clothing to wear.
Allan Coruner and Mark Feurstein play Shimon Haretz and Isaac Malbi respectively who tease and torment each other throughout the film so add light moments, Alexa Davalos plays one of the love interest and Jodhi May plays Tamara Skidelsky who finds herself pregnant which is AGAINST the orders of Tuvia. What will she do? What will HE DO/ SAY?
Edward Zwick is the Director who has somehow been DENIED an Oscar by Hollywood in spite of Directing :- Glory, which I personally think is one of the best Western Movies Ever Made or whatever specialist Genre anyone wants to put it into. Starring D.Washington M.Freeman M.Broderick
Shakespeare in Love, Traffic, Blood Diamond, Legends of the Fall.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 27 December 2011
This was a little gem of a film, great story line and kept the viewer interested from start to finish, its a true story about the Jews, Germans and Russians, dont want to say to much about it , and give anything away, but, if your into true stories you will really enjoy this one, well worth the money and a good nights viewing, I enjoyed it very much.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Edward Zwick can certainly make terrific films and this is one of his many productions where he combines a strong moralistic theme(here the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis) with wonderfully shot action sequences that combine excellently to illustrate a moving,exciting story.
Daniel Craig is the star,but for me Liev Schreiber was the outstanding performer with a good,underplayed turn by Jamie Bell.
When you learn that the charactors were real and the film is based on actual events it always adds extra poignancy to the story that you"ve just watched.
Zwick certainly did justice to this episode of WW2.
Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 14 July 2010
Well written and convincingly acted, this is one of the best WW2 films of recent years. The cinematography of the film is well thought out and gives a genuine sense of atmosphere appropriate to the bleak subject matter. Emotive without being swamped by sentimentality and containing action scenes devoid of today's de riguer "gung ho" flavour this is an highly watchable film and I would recommend it to anyone.
Perhaps the greatest virtue of the film however, is that it is based upon factual events and although a litle artistic licence has been employed, the central story remains credible. Excellent.
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