January 24, 2009
Based on an amazing true story- that's a cliche, but it's true in this case. The Bielski brothers retreat into the thick woods of their hometown to avoid the Russian police, who are rounding up Jews for the Nazis. When other Jews find them in the woods, their small campsite grows into a community trying to survive a long winter and avoid detection by police patrols. The larger their group becomes, the more attention they draw from the Nazis, and the harder it becomes to maintain law and order within the camp as well. Eventually the community, is forced to flee the forest in a Moses-like Exodus to freedom.
I appreciated that there were no black-and-white, good and evil people in this movie. The police who round up Jews are not totally evil, and the Bielski brothers are forced to make life and death decisions every day. This struggle is dramatized with the two eldest brothers, level-headed diplomat Tuvia (Daniel Craig), who manages to broker detente with the local Red Army resistance, and revenge-minded fighter Zus (Liev Schreiber), who joins the army to kill Nazis, rather than compromise himself. The performances were fine all around, the story was amazing as I had never heard it before, and the direction was quite good, even if the battle scenes were a little rudimentary.
Defiance was directed by Edward Zwick, who has made a series of passionate and important movies about war, politics, and race, including Glory and Courage Under Fire, which I both strongly recommend. Also, The Siege, The Last Samurai, and Blood Diamond. (Somerville Theater)