It is 1941 and the Jews of Eastern Europe are being massacred. The Bielski brothers - Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Liev Schreiber), Asael (Jamie Bell) and Aron (George MacKay) - all head for the dense woods near their home, which they have known since childhood. At first their only motivation is to stay alive, but gradually as whispers of their daring spreads, they begin to attract other men and women, young and old, who become willing to risk everything for their freedom, as a brutal winter sets in.
Review by Louise Keller:
Our revenge is to live, says Daniel Craig's Tuvia Bielski whose will to survive in war-torn Eastern Europe becomes an inspiration to many Jews facing persecution and death. Based on a book by Tuvia Bielski which tells the true story of brothers who make their home in the woods of Belorussia, Craig and Liev Schreiber play brothers torn apart by different philosophies but brought together by their blood ties. 'We must not become like them,' Craig's peace-loving Tuvia tells his brother after a 'blood for blood' killing spree.
The themes are tough and substantial and director Edward Zwick treats the subject matter with the gravitas it deserves. But for all the good things in the film, including excellent performances, I was not convinced - and for the most part, not drawn into the film's reality. The use of English tinged with fake, inconsistent East European accents certainly plays a part in my reservation, but it is more than that. It's as though the filmmakers have tried so hard to create an authentic world, it seems to be exactly that - a make believe world.
It's an extraordinary story and one that deserves to be told, in which a group of men and women create their own self-sufficient community, and make each day of freedom an act of faith. As to be expected, there is violence and disturbing themes as this ever-growing group of fugitives struggles to survive against the odds. Animosity flares and tempers become frayed as pressures of hunger and sickness set in. Relationships evolve and there is something innocent about the make-shift wedding ceremony between Bell's Asael and Mia Wasikowska's Chaya. The performances are all fine especially Craig and Schreiber who make us care about their brotherly relationship, even though they choose separate paths.
Eduardo Serra's stunning cinematography of the Lithuanian woods is a highlight, especially under a thick blanket of snow and James Newton Howard's music adds texture. Defiance tells an extraordinary tale of survival and one in which the act of survival alone becomes a triumph in itself.
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CAST: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell, George MacKay
PRODUCER: Pieter Jan Brugge, Edward Zwick
DIRECTOR: Edward Zwick
SCRIPT: Clayton Frohman, Edward Zwick (book by Nechama Tec)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Eduardo Serra
EDITOR: Steven Rosenblum
MUSIC: James Newton Howard
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dan Weil
RUNNING TIME: 136 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 30, 2009