Plot summary (with possible spoilers): Based on a true story, Defiance opens in Eastern Europe in 1941, in the midst of World War II. Hitler’s Nazis are in the process of rounding up and slaughtering Jews. Among the casualties are the parents of Tuvia (played by Daniel Craig), Zus (Liev Schreiber), and Asael (Jamie Bell) Bielski. The Bielski brothers manage to survive, fleeing into a nearby forest to escape from the continued persecution.
After quickly avenging their parents’ death by killing the local officers responsible, the Bielskis turn their attention to surviving long-term in the forest. This would be a hard enough task under ordinary circumstances, but is made infinitely more difficult by the fact that more and more Jews keep coming to the forest for refuge. Though Zus would be perfectly happy to let everyone fend for themselves, Tuvia won’t hear of it. He welcomes them all, despite the lack of food and shelter.
As the numbers continue to swell, the Bielskis decide that they should try to make a working community out there in the forest. They establish some ground rules, which include having everybody work to pitch in — no excuses or laziness accepted. Moreover, everyone has to take turns going on food raids (stealing from people in nearby towns and villages), and no pregnancies are allowed since they don’t have the resources to care for infants.
The rest of the film then shows how the brothers manage to save over 1,000 Jews from the Nazis during their years in hiding. Along the way, the camp members survive extreme food shortages, rampant illness, harsh winters, and an all-out attack by German soldiers. As the credits roll, viewers learn that all the survivors from the Bielski camp went on to have more than 10,000 children and grandchildren, showing that the number saved was far greater than just those in the camp.
My Reaction: The previews for Defiance made it seem like a decent film, but it didn’t spend a long time in theaters, so I didn’t get a chance to see it there. After viewing the DVD, I now understand why it had such a short shelf life. This movie was boring!
I’m usually inclined to like true stories, so it wouldn’t have taken much to please me, but there was absolutely nothing worthwhile in this film. The two main characters, Tuvia and Zus, are the only ones who get any sort of development at all, yet there are lots of other characters taking up screen time. Since these characters were mostly played by unrecognizable actors and weren’t addressed by name very often, it was impossible for me to keep them straight. As a result, I didn’t care about any of them, or, by extension, what their fate would turn out to be.
Another problem with this film is that there wasn’t enough of a setup prior to jumping into the action. I mean, yes, we all know the Jews were rounded up and murdered by the Nazis, but I think the filmmakers would have done well to establish this within the context of this particular movie instead of just throwing in a few grainy newsreel shots at the beginning. Most of the persecution and brutality took place off screen, and as a result, any time the Bielskis killed someone, I was left thinking, “Wait, what did that guy do to them?” Sure, if the victim was in an SS uniform, I could understand the killing. But a lot of the victims just appeared to be regular villagers — and this made it look like the Bielskis were every bit as bad as the Nazis.
There were plenty of other problems with Defiance, but honestly, I just don’t want to waste any more of my time writing about this production. The bottom line is that it’s long, boring, and historically inaccurate in many respects. I give it 1 star out of 5.