Defiance is an R-rated 2008 action drama history film directed by Edward Zwick and written by him and Clayton Frohman. Some of Mr. Zwick’s popular films include The Last Samurai (my review here), Blood Diamond, Legends of The Fall, Glory and Traffic along with many others. The film tells the true story of the Bielski partisans, a group led by Polish Jewish brothers who saved Jews in Belarus during the Second World War. It is an adaptation of Nechama Tec’s book Defiance: The Bielski Partisans. It’s an incredible story of how these brothers rescued and protected so many Jews in the forest from the Germans. I strongly believe that this is Daniel Craig’s best performance of his career. His Bond character vanishes as he completely becomes Polish Jew, Tuvia Bielski, fighting for the survival of his people.
!!! SPOILERS AHEAD !!!
The film is an emotional one and revenge was quickly achieved in the beginning which was surprising. From there on it’s pure survival and hope. There are some scenes where it’s raw and tough to watch. There seems to always be– in war films– one enemy that is brought back to the base camp to be tortured and humiliated. Yes we can understand that he is the enemy and should be killed. But to bring him back so the people can beat their sorrows out on him was almost unbearable to watch. In a sense I understand them but at the same time it makes them look like savages. Animals. And Tuvia knowing it was gonna happen, let it happen after all. It was sick but perhaps he felt that it would make others feel “better.” I’m not sure why the director wanted us to see that.
Daniel Craig pulls of a great accent and speaks credible Russian. Whether he actually can speak Russian or if it’s just memorized sentences, he sounded like a natural. Liev Schreiber is Liev Schreiber. Think of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. He does a natural accent and speaks perfectly Russian which is fun to watch. Another notable performance is by Jamie Bell, who plays third brother, Asael. A young man learning from his older brothers. The way he breaks down and cries in the beginning gave me goosebumps. Without him, Tuvia would have almost given up at the end. Unfortunately, we do not get to see much involvement of George MacKay, fourth brother, Aron.
James Newton Howard’s score is beautiful and the tone is strongly set on the injustice of the Jews. It captures well what they’re going through and what they are like as a community.
Fun fact: The whole movie was filmed in Lithuania.
The cinematography and the wardrobe (costumes) were the strongest side of the film. I feel like that and Daniel’s acting was pretty much it to the film. Maybe we’re used to seeing all sides of a story in films but that doesn’t make this a bad film. The director obviously wanted the focus to just be on this community. It’s a refreshing story that has no Hitler, very little Germans and more good Russians (the Soviet partisans).
Thanks for reading my review!
– Nick Andersen