R - for violence and language
January 16 , 2008
Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell, Alexa Davalos, Allan Corduner, Mark Feuerstein, Mia Wasikowska,
Screenplay by Clayton Frohman and Edward Zwick; based on thes book Defiance: the Bielski Partisans by Nechama Tec
Paramount Vantage; a Grosvenor Park/ Bedford Falls Production
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Defiance: More Than Just a 'War Movie'
By Laura J. Bagby
CBN.com Sr. Producer
Based on a true story, which is recorded in Nechama Tec’s book Defiance: the Bielski Partisans, the film centers around the town of Nowogrodek, Belarus, where the Bielski family, who were farmers, reside.
On June 22, 1941, the town becomes a Jewish ghetto following the Nazi’s “Operation Barbarossa” invasion of the Soviet Union.
Though many family members lose their lives in the ghetto in December 1941, the three Bielski brothers, Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Alexander Zisel "Zus" (Liev Schreiber) , and Asael (Jamie Bell), manage to flee to the nearby forest.
It is there that Tuvia sets up camp and vows to help any Jews who manage to escape from the ghetto. It is his way of avenging his parents’ death at the hands of the Germans.
Enduring several years of fighting, harsh weather, camp in-fighting, and sickness, Tuvia and his brothers continue in solidarity in an attempt to overcome inhumanity and certain death.
The Good Stuff
From director Edward Zwick, who is known for his epic, hero-driven films set against the landscape of war – films like Glory (1989), Legends of the Fall (1994), The Last Samurai (2003), and Blood Diamonds (2006) – comes another war-torn tale. And who better to write and direct this story than an Oscar winner familiar with the war genre?
Much of the film’s action takes place in the frigid forest, which could have been a set-up for a visually boring movie or even a logistical nightmare in the hands of a less-experienced director. But with Zwick’s choice to cast Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber in the key Bielski roles and center the storyline on the bond of brotherhood and more universal themes rather than on intricate battles or salacious love scenes, the setting becomes the backdrop as it should and you find yourself drawn into the mind and life of the characters themselves instead.
Even when his accent isn’t completely accurate and a hint of the British escapes, Daniel Craig holds his own on screen. He does an excellent job of showing both a tenacity and strength that keeps him from being just another power-hungry, aggressive brute and a vulnerability that doesn’t appear weak. He becomes both larger than life and completely human, and that balance brings Craig credibility.
Liev Schreiber is always excellent as the stoic action hero. This is not the first time he has had to fake a Russian accent either (in particular, recall The Sum of All Fears, 2002). He is completely believable as both a conflicted soldier and loyal brother.
Both men can say a lot with a smoldering stare without having to speak at all. This movie calls for many scenes like that when circumstances are so weighty that the exchange of words would break the stoic moment. And I think the pregnant pauses are necessary to balance the tension of war. Without those silent moments and the occasional brief moments of humor sprinkled throughout the film, the storyline would be too much to bear.
What I like best about Zwick’s vision for this film is how he builds the story of Tevia around the story of the Old Testament Moses. He brings together humanity and faith in this depiction without becoming overly sentimental or overly religious. We see the Jewish ghetto escapees looking to Tevia as some kind of savior to lead them “out of Egypt” (the ghetto and the grip of the enemy) and across “the Red Sea” (a swampy river that threatens to overwhelm them) onto dry land. In fact, the camp’s key religious leader, Shamon Haretz (Allan Corduner), says to Tevia, “I almost lost my faith, but you were sent by God to save us.”
There are many, many more memorable lines from this film that center on the Moses theme, the struggle for freedom, and keeping one’s humanity.
Speaking of humanity, the film tries to teach that even during dire circumstances when survival is at a premium, there should be respect for human life and dignity. It makes you ask yourself several questions: How would I react if my life was constantly at stake and if I was constantly on the run from my enemies? Would I fall apart in weakness? Would I become selfish? Would I show compassion for those who are sick and dying by offering them food and shelter? Would I be able to trust those closest to me with my life? And if I were ever asked to go through what those Jews did back then in history, would I have the stamina, discipline, and survival skills to stay alive?
The Questionable Stuff
The film is lengthy, about two and a half hours, which will be a challenge for some. Although I didn’t check my watch during the viewing, there is this sense of when is this war going to end and at what point is Zwick going to cut the film short and wrap it up?
Second, this is an R-rated movie and a war movie, so you will need to expect certain things, violence and plenty of it being one of them. At times, the battle scenes get quite graphic, so if you are sensitive to that, you should consider renting it when it comes out on DVD and fast-forwarding through the more brutal scenes.
There is some bad language, including the F-word, but not as much as one might expect for a war film. Had this been a Scorsese film, expletives would have been the standard. Fortunately, Zwick and writer Clayton Frohman chose to lift the spoken word to a higher plane the majority of the time or to opt for more action and weighty nonverbal expressions, particularly the pregnant pause, instead of filling in the space with foul language.
When it comes to sexual innuendo and those love scenes, for the most part it is tastefully done and leaves most up to the imagination. The romantic liaisons are intended to show a certain humanity, which juxtaposes starkly with the harshness of survival in a war-torn region.
This film will be one that mainly men will go see, but that doesn’t mean women won’t find value in it, too. War movies are not my favorite genre typically, but this film does an excellent job with character development so that it becomes much more than a string of gratuitiously violent battle scenes.
Most moviegoers will go see Defiance for Craig’s and Schreiber’s performances, Zwick’s directing, or the true story on which this film is based. And in all three cases, I think Defiance wins.
Find out more about Defiance
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