Defiance Review

by Steve Rhodes (steve DOT rhodes AT internetreviews DOT com)
January 16th, 2009

A film review by Steve Rhodes
Copyright 2009 Steve Rhodes

RATING (0 TO ****): ** 1/2

As well-intentioned and earnest as it is lifeless and plodding, DEFIANCE is based on a true story of bravery and valor. It's too bad that the movie never does the underlying story justice. With at least a half hour of cinematic fat, the movie only gets the cinematography right -- with its stirring and gorgeous images of a life in hiding in a frozen forest.
The movie concerns a Jewish group of freedom fighters during World War II. 007's Daniel Craig plays Tuvia Bielski, an enigmatic man who becomes a legend. He and his brothers Zus (Liev Schreiber) and Asael (Jamie Bell) lead an increasingly large group of Jewish exiles who are fleeing imprisonment in the ghettos.

When we first meet Tuvia, he is a man with one pistol and exactly four bullets. From there, with initially only revenge as a motive -- his parents were murdered -- he soon gathers his followers.

Set in the Belarussian forest near Poland, the group tries their best to survive the harsh climate and the lack of adequate food supplies. Near starvation and under the constant threat of another attack by the Nazis, the group needs a strong leader. The taciturn Tuvia rules the camp with an iron glove and a penchant for enforced egalitarianism. New arrivals at the encampment in the woods are seen wanting to kiss Tuvia's hand, which only serves to irritate him.

Much is made of the brotherly disagreements and rivalries, especially between Tuvia and Zus. Eventually Zus has enough of his brother's stern leadership, so Zus joins the nearby Russian Army, which is also hiding out nearby in the forest. Much to his chagrin, he finds that the Russians are quite anti-Semitic, albeit better than the Germans perhaps. When the Russians use the word "comrades," they take it as a given that Jews are at best second class comrades.

Director Edward Zwick (BLOOD DIAMOND) treats his material so reverentially that it rarely comes alive. And, although it is based on a true story, it plays like a very Hollywoodized version of reality. The ending, for example, contains a very remarkable and rather unbelievable coincidence that completely changes the outcome of a key battle.

The dialog ranges from the trite to the funny. "I send you for food and you bring back more mouths to feed," "Our revenge is to live," and "Every day of freedom is like an act of faith," Tuvia lectures. "You annoy me, therefore I exist," one guy says to the camp's self-described intellectual, whose sole accomplishment in life has been to publish pamphlets.

Defiance is never a bad movie, but it's also rarely a compelling one. You'll leave the theater thinking about story itself, but the movie will be quickly forgotten.

Defiance runs a long 2:17. It is rated R for "violence and language" and would be acceptable for teenagers.

The film opens nationwide in the United States on Friday, January 16, 2009. In the Silicon Valley, it will be showing at the AMC theaters, the Cinemark theaters and the Camera Cinemas.

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