Jewish brothers in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe escape into the Belarussian forests, where they join Russian resistance fighters and endeavor to build a village in order to protect themselves and about 1,000 Jewish non-combatants.
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On the run and hiding in the deep forests of the then German occupied Poland and Belorussia (World War II), the four Bielski brothers find the impossible task of foraging for food and weapons for their survival. They live, not only with the fear of discovery, contending with neighboring Soviet partisans and knowing whom to trust but also take the responsibility of looking after a large mass of fleeing Polish Jews from the German war machine. Women, men, children, the elderly and the young alike are all hiding in makeshift homes in the dark, cold and unforgiving forests in the darkest times of German occupied Eastern Europe. Written by
When most people learn about World War II during their American History classes, they hear all about the major stories and the major players: D-Day, Eisenhower, the Holocaust, Hitler, Axis vs. Allies, Battle of the Bulge, but there are literally thousands of lesser-known stories from that era that many have not yet heard. It was one such obscure story that is the basis for the film Defiance, starring Daniel Craig.
The film begins with a familiar theme -- Nazi soldiers rounding up Jews in Western Europe. The grainy, black-and-white style tells us that this is a true story. However, as events unfold, we realize that this isn't the Holocaust story that we're accustomed to seeing in films like Schindler's List. In fact, it's a story about hundreds of Jews who fight for survival as free men and women in the dense and expansive forests of Nazi-occupied Poland.
Daniel Craig gives perhaps one of his best performances as Tuvia Bielski, the eldest of four Jewish brothers and the eventual leader of the Bielski partisans. Although the Bielski's and fellow Jews are forced to watch as their people are rounded up and killed by the Nazis, Tuvia wants to avoid becoming a group of vigilantes. The conflict arises from younger brother Zus (Liev Schreiber) who desperately wants to avenge the deaths of those he loved. Tuvia is conflicted by the knowledge that in extreme circumstances one must often take extreme measures in order to survive and protect others.
Throughout the film tension is woven by utilizing a number of different methods, all of which make the movie much more compelling. First, as mentioned, is the conflict between fighting and surviving. Second, is the suspense created by the knowledge that the Nazis are closing in around them. Third is the conflict between the Bielskis and the local police who are loyal to the Nazis. Fourth is the inner struggles the Bielskis face when some of their own decide to cause disagreements and divisions. For those unfamiliar with the story, the fate of the Bielskis is constantly in doubt.
The cinematography of the film is gray and muted, reflective of the somber tone of the subject matter. The musical score is reminiscent of John William's score in Schindler's List -- soft and sad with the cello and violin taking the melody. In some ways it feels that Defiance takes its visual cues from Schindler's List as well; there's something about the look of the movie that seems familiar. The battle scenes are similar in style to Saving Private Ryan, complete with the dazed, ringing-in-the-ears experience following a grenade that goes off too close to Tuvia. I would have appreciated a more unique perspective to the aesthetics of the film to coincide with the uniqueness of the story.
In all, Defiance is an important story that needs to be heard. Daniel Craig leads a great cast of characters in an emotional journey of community, camaraderie, and hope.
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