Defiance Directed by: Edward Zwick Cast: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell Running Time: 2 hrs 15 mins Rating: R
Plot: In 1941, three courageous Belarussian brothers lead a growing number of fellow Jews to survive in the forest. A remarkable true story that was previously quiet since the brothers involved sought no recognition for their bravery.
Who’s It For? This is a film with a wholly universal audience, despite its religious concentration. If anything, Craig fans looking for more action will be distracted by a performance that steers away from his Bondian-image.
Expectations: I was curious to see if Defiance would honor the strength of the Jewish people during World War II in a way different than recent Holocaust films like The Boy In Striped Pajamas or even The Counterfeiters. Equally compelling was the presence of Daniel Craig - would he be able to retain his power as non-Bond?
Daniel Craig as Tuvia Bielski: Though he still obsessively pouts his lips and loses us in his big blue eyes, Craig is able to significantly divulge the brute side of his handsome figure. His performance is a reminder of his expansive emotional potential - believable as either raging with anger or miserable (with a sickness, nonetheless). There are only a few instances where Craig returns to playing action hero, but such scenes are cushioned with a very acceptable re-creation of a human being that appears all but fictional. Score: 7
Liev Schreiber as Zus Bielski: Schreiber is a great actor, though his presence in his films is rather understated - often playing characters who aren't immediately important. By this pattern, Defiance is no different. In the second half of the film, he willingly accepts his placement as a sub-character, but utilizes the position to effectively represent the futility of revenge. Though Schreiber's character is the source of some of the film's over-dramatics, he nonetheless delivers as the most violent, arguably most disturbed brother. Score: 7
Jamie Bell as Asael Bielski: Similar to his co-stars, Bell can't shake off his good looks, but he fits the role of younger brother well. His character's relationship with "forest wife" Lilka (Alexa Davalos) brings in the film's heart, but he has little importance on any other elements within the story. To his credit, Defiance is Bell's full recovery from giant misstep Jumper. Score: 5
Talking: It's always awkward when accents substitute the language true to a film's setting. Perhaps this is a good thing, since my four years of taking Russian had me thinking Craig spoke the language at an unnaturally slow pace. As with many of the actors in the film, it's a credit to a good performance when an actor's foreign character can be accepted as authentic as instead of as a lazy impersonation. Score: 6
Sights: Noticeably, the violence isn't graphic, which is curious due to the film's grotesque visual possibilities. The lack of particularly "realistic" gore hints that the film might be uncommonly respectful to the true horror behind the story's events. Score: 6
Sounds: James Newton Howard has a score that is both weeping and nationalistic; distinguished musician Joshua Bell performs beautiful melancholy violin solos for certain pieces. Less pleasant are the film's sound effects. Though the visuals are slightly catered, sounds of gunfire and explosions are not - Defiance is a realistically loud film. Score: 7
The Bielski brothers (who don't particularly look alike), are only resonant by their actions, not their personalities. Despite impressive performances by the three actors, the film too often limits the reality of their characters - neglecting to fully elaborate on how these regular human beings became such courageous leaders.
Defiance tells a great history of survival and the unity within one's self and community that it requires. However, such a powerful story is not told with the proper amount of soul, lacking in the heart-provoking moments that impact an audience. Save for one scene where the brothers slaughter a handful of Nazis, the film's fist is as weak as its heart - its scenes of violence are equally devoid of any emotional effectiveness. Other moments are clouded by exaggerated Hollywood heroics or battle dramatics, which tends to imprison the film in a wrongful realm of mediocrity. This film, about people fighting invading enemies in forests familiar to natives, sometimes feels like a prequel to Red Dawn. But here, Defiance's faults can not be appreciated - only lamented.
It's refreshing that this film exists, considering it's a strikingly different story from a familiar era. It is, however, disappointing that Defiance does little to stand out from the types of films that its own story comparatively stands up against.
Final Score: 6/10