Distributed by: Paramount Vantage
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
I’ve always been interested in the events surrounding the Holocaust, wondering how such an atrocity could take place, how people fought back…how they survived it. I’ve read and watched many accounts of this time period, both true and fictional, but I’m one of those people who have to know more. To that end, I decided to check out the movie Defiance.
Based on the story of the Bielski Brothers and adapted from the Nechama Tec’s book Defiance: The Bielski Partisans, the movie takes place in 1941 just after the killing of the Bielski’s parents. Brothers Zus (Liev Schreiber), Asael (Jamie Bell) and Aron (George MacKay) escape into the Białowieża Forest. They eventually meet up with the eldest brother Tuvia (Daniel Craig). We soon learn that the Bielski’s are Polish Jews attempting to avoid being restricted to the Ghettos or killed. Tuvia’s wife is in another location attempting to keep safe from the Nazi death squads as are Zus’s wife and child.
Tuvia approaches a friend of the family who is not Jewish and pretends to help the local troops while smuggling to make extra money. After being told who was responsible for killing his family, Tuvia is asked to take several Jewish escapees his friend has been hiding with him when he leaves. Zus is skeptical, wondering how they can feed these refugees when they can barely feed themselves. But the brothers eventually take in more…and more…until the group becomes a sort of community. The larger the group gets and the more dangerous things get for them as they continue to hide from the death squads, the greater the tension between Tuvia and Zus, especially after Zus learns of the death of his wife and child. Zus wants revenge…he wants to act instead of hiding. He and others leave camp to join a band of Soviet partisans, helping with raids and attacks on Nazi soldiers.
Tuvia and Asael continue to lead the others in camp, despite the lack of food, harshness of the winter and spreading illness. The brothers all find love in the camps, but as much as they would like to move forward with their romances, protection of those at the camp and survival comes first. Somehow they survive, but when they learn that the camp is about to be attacked by German troops, how can the Bielski brothers possibly lead all of their charges to safety?
Defiance starts off somewhat slow and the viewer is not quite sure what to make of the Bielski Brothers at first. Tuvia and Zus are somewhat gruff and at odds with one another from the very start, but eventually you realize that they really care about each other and are truly good people at heart. I first saw signs of Liev Schreiber’s acting prowess in a fairly lousy film called Phantoms. The movie might have been horrible, but his acting was amazing. Schreiber showed great range and intensity as an actor in that film and he’s even better in this film – intense, angry, needing revenge…just amazing.
Daniel Craig is also great in this film as a man who is at odds with himself, never really wanting to be a leader of men, but discovering he is a natural in the role, willing to do what must be done to keep his people safe. This is a man who cares for others more than himself and is willing to sacrifice it all for lives of those he didn’t even know months ago. Craig also portrays Tuvia as someone with morals and a need to not be as vicious and animalistic as the Nazis hunting them. Asael Bielslki may be Jamie Bell’s finest role to date, portraying him as a sensitive man that is also willing to put himself at risk to save others in spite of…or perhaps because of…the extent of his own personal loss.
The music of thehehehe Defiance is orchestral and quite beautiful. The violin solos are haunting, speaking of the sadness and suffering of the people. The cinematography is incredible, showing both the beauty and the dangerous aspects of the Białowieża Forest.
The most amazing part of this film is that it is a true story. Happily, the DVD version of this film contained extras, letting me know just what happened to the various people in Defiance. Return to the Forest: The Making of Defiance takes the viewer through the history that inspired the film, the set creation and film sites, costumes, characters and more. Children of the Otriad: The Families Speak introduces us to the descendants of the Bielskis and their experiences as the film crew brought them back to their roots. Perhaps the most moving extra on the DVD is Bielski Partisan Survivors, a movie collage of photographs of the remaining members of the original group that survived for two years in the forest. There are no words, just music, as the photos are shown one by one. There is fierce pride in each of the faces...and a sort of haunted look in each and every eye.
For a history buff like myself with an interest in events surrounding the Holocaust, Defiance is a film that doesn't just show the atrocities of the time. It's not just a film about survival. It is also a film about fighting back...about not being resigned to a people's "fate" and ensuring that there is a future for a race of people. Defiance is an incredible story and the filmmakers tell it quite respectfully. It's definitely a must see.