Published Jan 15, 2009Taking on the task of fraternal conflict, simplifying it in a "to shoot this stranger in the head or not to shoot" manner, and tossing in every other contrivance possible, Defiance is at best adequate and at worst, groan inducing.
It is, however, far better than it should be, shuffling along at a solid pace, featuring some tautly structured action sequences and some intense, thoughtful performances despite Craig's horrible accent. It just isn't anything particularly special or memorable.
On the "groan inducing" side of the spectrum are the glib, pseudo-academic freshman conversations between the religious Shimon Haretz (Allan Corduner) and the academic Isaac Malbin (Mark Feuerstein), which are far too convenient and stilted. In addition, the ubiquitous, run-of-the-mill "romance in wartime" swill offered in the form of "forest wives" and the profoundly ignorant notion that popping out babies in a time of human strife is something beautiful, rather than something selfish and ignorant, prove tiring.
Defying the stereotypical notion that Jews were exterminated without a great deal of resistance during WWII, Defiance tells the true story of the Bielski brothers, whose newly formed forest community and stronghold against German forces managed to keep over 1,200 people alive through to the end of the war.
This battle, as one could imagine, was not without struggle, as a limited amount of food and medicine, along with some harsh winters and ideological tussles, caused internal conflict and loss of life. Inevitably, Tuvia Bielski (Daniel Craig), the more liberal-minded and compassionate Bielski brother, took charge of the scenario, having more of a concern for the lives of the innocent than his hot-headed but highly pragmatic brother Zus (Liev Schreiber).
With solid action and a fundamentally significant central story, a terser, less touchy-feely and obvious approach to the film may have proven more dramatically successful. The need to balance the beautiful with the profane is almost condescending, especially given how laboured and occasionally reductive the beauty presented is. (Paramount)