- Directed by Edward Zwick
- December 31, 2008
A group of brothers in Nazi occupied Europe lead and protect a group of Jewish survivors hiding in the Belarusian forest.
Based on 1993 book Defiance: The Bielski Partisans by Nechama Tec, Defiance is a dramatization of the story of the Bielski partisans who were a group led by Polish Jewish brothers that saved and recruited Jews in the forests of Belarus during World War II.
I heard about Defiance when it originally came out and it took me forever to get around to it. It was also rather hard to find as a physical copy and that is what I prefer if I miss a film in theaters that I really want to see. Difficulty in finding it was probably because this film did not make much of an impact at the box office which is rather unfortunate. This is a good movie inspired by true events.
As with anything from Hollywood based on or inspired by reality, expect boatloads of fiction to possibly be added and it is my understanding that there is plenty of fiction in this film. The ages of the brothers get fiddled with for example. There are events portrayed here that never happened. When I first heard of it I became familiar with the story but I am by no means an expert.
This is a story I feel that would work better as a miniseries in order to get out a full and largely accurate narrative of what really happened. There is plenty that was disturbed or shocking and just so much to tell. One story I recall is that a group from the Bielski camp across a dead horse in the forest that had already been picked over and ate the intestines after cleaning the feces out. That is one example that shows you cannot do something like this justice in a two-hour presentation.
In real life the Bielski’s did not play nice in their fight to survive. I don’t think they necessarily paint them in a saintly light. They started the film as less than reputable people. They are not dangerous criminals, but they aren’t angels on the side of justice. What comes in handy for not only their survival but the survival of their ever growing community are the skills that they honed as criminals.
Daniel Craig is Tuvia Bielski, the brother who is trying his hardest to not be like the Nazis, to not be as brutal and barbaric as the Nazis are in order to retain a little bit of his humanity but he finds himself forced to do terrible things in order to ensure the survival of the people he has taken responsibility for. He transforms from a man trying to survive to a reluctant Moses.
Zus Bielski (Liev Schreiber) has no such compunctions about trying to play nice. He is willing to toss aside his humanity easily in order to get vengeance on the Nazis. He does so easily but it does pick at him.
Both characters have issues with each other and their different views on how to handle things creates conflict for them, but you get the sense of a real bond between the between the characters. They love each other and just feel that the other is wrong.
Jamie Bell is Asael Bielski who is portrayed as a strong supporter of Tuvia but is also torn by his devotion to his brother Zus. George MacKay is Aron Bielski, the youngest of the brothers. His role is of the innocent forced to confront the harsh realities of the world.
As dire as the environment that is created in Defiance, there is still a sense of hope and that appears to be the main message. You can find hope in life even in the darkest of times. These people tried to get back some of what they lost but also start over in the forest.
There are highs and lows throughout and there are some seriously gut-wrenching moments. One moment that is for me truly disturbing is towards the end of the film when they bring a captured Nazi officer into their latest camp and a crowd gathers and just unleashes their rage upon him. It’s shocking and jarring.
The finale-and I’m talking the closing five minutes or so-seems a little too clean and neat when viewed. That is probably because that part is a work of Hollywood and not drawn from anything that truly happened. It’s meant to give a bit of a rousing sendoff to the story to end it on a high note, but I don’t think that was necessary. I think you could’ve closed with the group being forced to move and a text epilogue in a fashion similar to what they actually had that told you what really happened to the Bielski’s. Those can be poignant and more effective than a complete work of fiction.
The characters are well done, and the performances are fine. Nobody wows you but nobody does any disservice to the material that they have been given. The directing is able to convey the appropriate amount of shock or hope or whatever emotion is needed for that particular scene.
Defiance is a very good movie that flew under the radar. While based on historical events it does take liberties with the material though if you want a good story watch this. And use it as a starting point to learn more.