18 January 2009
At the movies: Defiance.
After the 1941 Nazi invasion of Byelorussia results in the deaths and deportations of over fifty thousand people, the brothers Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Liev Schreiber), and Asael (Jamie Bell) Bielski must evade death squads and capture in the forests they have spent their whole lives learning and living in. Over time, they provide a refuge for Jews escaping the SS death machine, finding their own place and community in the process.
Daniel Craig, refining his Munich credentials and helping drive a Jews-with-guns film, again takes that little-used cinematic archetype and makes it his own. Similarly, here’s a WWII film that tells a different story than what we as audiences and observers of history are used to, and director Edward Zwick (Glory, Legends of the Fall) is allowed to make another little-told tale of war come alive.
Zwick follows his Glory template here, and it still works. It seems disrespectful to ask for a bit more leavening humor (the line “we’re accountants” is dark humor at its finest), but touches like that allow more life into what, at times, feels a bit bound. The three brothers are each fascinating personae, and each of the lead actors comes at things from a different place; I find Bell’s Asael’s arc to be the most wrenching, but there’s nothing to stop viewers from finding their own way inside the film. Like the Bielskis' community, there are many different ways of achieving a similar goal.