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Defiance movie poster


Genre: Action, Drama
Rated: R
Directed by:
Edward Zwick
Starring: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell

Released by: Paramount Vantage

In Short: Three brothers escape German occupation during the invasion of Poland in 1939 and hideout in the Belarusian forest, where they join Russian resistance fighters and attempt to build a village to protect other fleeing citizens.
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Survivor: Belarus
Defiance Defies Convention and Raises Weighty Questions, Even While Lapsing into Melodrama

You might think you know how this one is supposed to end. It's 1941, and Jewish villages across Eastern Europe are being ethnically cleansed by Nazi soldiers and their collaborators. Yet somehow a band of Jews led by Tuvia Bielski (Daniel Craig) manages to survive by hiding out in a forest in Belarus, where together they create a community and a ragtag militia.

Being Jewish, this astounded me, as I thought my people pretty much gave up on camping after the exodus from Egypt. Plus, as this particular forest turns into a place of frostbite and famine, Defiance seems like an episode of "Survivor: Belarus." But in these dire circumstances, people discover skills they never knew they had: Talmud scholars and bourgeois intellectuals learn to heft a hammer, a watchmaker learns to repair rifles, and Tuvia's community survives, complete with a quietly glorious snowy wedding.

Liev Schreiber in Defiance Mia Wasikowska and Jamie Bell in Defiance

Neither are my people typically known as matinee idols, but director Edward Zwick populates this forest with some fine-looking Jews. Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell star as brothers Bielski and Jodhi May, Iben Hjelje and Alexa Davalos are among the "forest wives." As for bravado, we've come a long way from Woody Allen's nebbishy encounter with a lobster in Annie Hall. Note this snippet of dialog: "Jews don't fight," says one character. "These Jews do," says another.

This leads to the film's central conflict: whether a cycle of fighting and killing—no matter how justified—has the power to soothe and avenge. It's a debate with repercussions even into today's headlines.

Defiance's most notable weak point is that it treats the question with movie clichés and preachy dialog. Zwick’s script (with Clayton Frohman) portrays Craig's and Schreiber's characters as representing two sides of this coin, but in Defiance, as in real life, that coin has facets that are almost too numerous to count.

Reviewed by Andrew Bender

PSB010809 (Updated: 01/16/09 KR)

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