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He Said, She Said Review Site

Defiance

What She said:

She

The He and I have had a pretty decent run of it lately with war films “based on true stories.”  Most of them turned out to be enjoyable watches.  And so we decided to take a chance with another, Defiance, a 2008 film starring Daniel Craig, Live Schreiber, Jamie Bell, George McKay, and Mark Feuerstein. 

Defiance tells the story about the Polish Jewish Bielski brothers who managed to escape the systematic killing of Jews in Eastern Europe early in World War II.  While their parents were not so lucky, the brothers escaped into the Naliboki forest, an area with which they’re very familiar.  There they set-up shop for the long haul.  They also make a point of seeking revenge against the Germans who killed their parents and those who have aided the Nazis in their mass genocide. 

Defiance

It’s hard to tell the exact ages of the brothers, but Tuvia (Craig) is the leader, Zus (Schreiber) is the borderline unhinged one, Asael (Bell) is the naively optimistic one, and Aron (MacKay) is just a kid.  Tuvia and Zus seem fairly close in age, and they butt heads a lot in their sibling rivalry.  Tuvia, while a natural born leader, is also a little more level headed and compassionate.  Zus is too headstrong and borderline homicidal.  But he’s also well intentioned.  The clash of the brothers intensifies as other Jews begin to join their group.  It’s partially a power thing, partially a jealousy thing.  But either way, things get a little sketchy as the refugee group grows.

As the group swells in size, it also becomes apparent that they need an organized structure.  Under Tuvia’s leadership, rules are set and work policies are enacted.  Things get tense when they encounter a group of Soviet partisans also hanging out in the forest.  The Soviets agree to protect the Jewish camp in exchange for supplies.  But that only helps so much.  It’s only a matter of time before the Germans figure out where the Jews are hiding and try to take them out.  In the meantime, the group has been ravaged by illness and starvation, and so they’re weakened in their ability to fight back.  When the Germans do attack, the refugees are forced to flee, and not all of them make it out alive.  Although they had parted ways through the months, the Bielski brothers are reunited as they try to ensure the survival of their peers.  It’s all very dramatic.

This movie cuts right to the chase from the outset.  I mean so much so that I was initially a little confused about what was going on.  It jumped right into it.  However, once the brothers are in the woods and joined by other Jews, things begin to settle down.  My concern was that a 2 hour, 15 minute movie about people living in the woods would settle down a little too much aka become boring, but that really didn’t happen for me.  I think there was just enough turmoil to keep things moving along.  That said, I am a history lover who is overly fascinated with the culture and events surrounding World War I and II, and so others may not find this film quite as fascinating.

I have to hand out some kudos for the acting on this one.  I thought it was very good.  It could have easily been overdone, especially since all of the actors slapped on heavy Polish accents.  However, while they teetered a little close to the edge at times, I thought the portrayals were just about right.  A lot of the intensity of this film comes from the drama between characters, not from the actual events unfolding.  Around the middle of the film, there’s really not too much actually happening.  I mean, there are scuffles and conflicts within the group, but it’s not like the Jewish refugees spend the entire film fleeing the Germans. 

Defiance

Visually, I thought the film was well shot.  It feels fairly authentic, from the clothes, to the hairstyles, down to the fact that these people were extremely dirty.  I would have been offended if they had not been.  The colors are muted and the scenery is sparse in a way that makes it feel very morose and moody.  I’m not sure where they shot the movie, but it certainly feels like the forests of Poland.  Early in the film, I was a little put-off by some shaky camera work, but that seemed to clear up (or I simply got used to it) as the movie went on. 

I know that this film came with a bit of controversy.  Some have pointed out that, as usual, what we see on screen parts ways with reality.  It’s not as much of a true depiction as it would like to pretend to be.  Some have said that the Bielskis were bandits and should not be glorified as heroes.  I would say that, while they are likely softened in this film, I did not come away feeling like they were the best of people either way.  Especially during the first third of the film, they did actually come across as over-vengeful and almost thug-like in how they handled themselves.  That said, it brings up an interesting discussion of how we place blame on those who aided the Germans during the atrocities of World War II.  It’s quite a dialogue that one could engage in. 

Apparently, the Bielskis and their band of refugees also never engaged in one-on-one combat with the Germans, who had been sent after them, but never actually found them.  Instead, the group was concerned with avoidance and survival.  This is actually bothersome for me.  If this is the case, then I would say this film should not market itself as “a true story.”  As usual, Hollywood applies that term too liberally in an effort to garner attention for a film.  Oh well…

Even with its flaws, I still found Defiance to be entertaining when taken at face value.  It wasn’t the best war film I’ve ever seen.  There are so many others that have grander and more enthralling stories to tell.  But I thought it was interesting.  The film may have benefitted from having about 20 minutes trimmed off of it, but it was tolerable.  I generally enjoyed it for what it was.

Thumbs mostly up.

Defiance

What He said:

He
Defiance

Can you imagine having to drop whatever is you are doing at this very instant to run for your life? That’s what Jewish people had to do during WWII when the Nazis began sweeping through various countries – forcing their madness on countless innocent people. If you are lucky, you might be able to grab a few supplies before you leave, but if you look out your window and see an invading army marching towards your house, you might not even have time to put your shoes on, let alone grab food, clothing, or something to protect yourself with.

This is exactly what the Bielski brothers had to do when the Soviet police started carrying out the wishes of the Nazi party at the beginning of WWII. Too frightened to fight against them, Russians authorities began hunting Russian Jews. Led by eldest brothers Tuvia (Daniel Craig) and Zus (Live Schreiber), younger bothers Asael (Jamie Bell) and Aron (George McKay) flee into the Naliboki forest, where they plan to hide until the invasion/persecution is over.

They encounter fellow escapees in the forest, and though they disagree on what to do with them, they bring them along on the journey. As the movie goes on, more-and-more people begin to show up as the rumors about the Bielski militia spread throughout the country, but more on that later.

It doesn’t take long until the brothers find out that their parents were murdered by the police. Tuvia thinks he knows who did it. It turns out their father and a local police officer had issues with one another and Tuvia plans on paying him a visit.

Zus is not happy that Tuvia went on a revenge mission without him and insists on being involved going forward. This is how their unofficial militia forms. It starts out with the three oldest brothers and a couple of the stragglers they picked up along the way. They’re mission? They kill small groups of Nazis as well as Russian collaborators – and they do so with reckless abandon. There’s a few times where you find yourself wondering if their actions are justified. Killing Nazis is not an issue. It’s when they start killing people who were essentially forced to collaborate or too scared to do anything but to collaborate. There are times you will cringe at their actions and others you completely understand them.

I mentioned earlier that as their reputation grows, more refugees begin to flee to the woods and seek asylum with the infamous Bieliski gang. Though not sure what to do because of a lack of resources, Tuvia doesn’t hesitate to take them in. Zus thinks people should fend for themselves, especially if they aren’t willing to fight. He likes fighting – perhaps a little too much – but hates doing it while others sit back at camp eating, relaxing, and staying safe from any real danger. This causes friction between Tuvia and Zus. You could tell Zus was already jealous of the fact that Tuvia has been elected the leaders, but the fact that he keeps bringing in more refugees enrages Zus.

Defiance

Asael and Aron are force to choose between their two eldest brothers. They don’t want to, but they also know it is unavoidable. After the loss of some of his men, Tuvia decides to take a more cautious approach. He wants to hide in the forest. He’ll kill if the fight is brought to him, but he won’t seek it out. Zus is the exact opposite of that. Zus is…well he’s kind of nuts. He gets a thrill out of killing and the power goes to his head. He wants to leave the refugees and go join the Russian military.

If you are looking for historical accuracy, look elsewhere. Like most Hollywood adaptations, this movie tells its own story. Movies are meant to entertain. If you want historical accuracy, go watch a documentary or read a book.

Critics were a little rough on this movie. Audiences were much more receptive to it – ratings wise at least, because not a lot of people saw it. The movie did not do well financially. I have to agree with the people on this one – this was an entertaining. If you are looking for an action/drama set during WWII, this one should satisfy your appetite. It’s not a straight up action movie, nor is it a full-blown drama. It’s definitely a little of both.  I actually liked the balance of both quite a bit. It had more action than a drama would, but more drama than an action movie. It is a viable example of both genres.

Tuvia and Zus were fascinating characters to watch. First of all, Tuvia is the one who initiates the whole revenge thing, but as time goes on, he’s more about survival. Once Zus gets a taste of it, he’s consumed by it. Killing Nazis is all he cares about. He teeters on the brink of losing his humanity. They are interesting characters and watching them interact is entertaining. Tuvia is sort of the patriarch, but he’s not perfect by any means. Liev Schreiber can be a pretty intimidating actor in my opinion. He gives off the “not somebody you want to mess with” vibe very much. This movie is another example of that.

There’s also a good supporting cast too. Jamie Bell and George McKay are good as the two younger brothers. Alexa Davalos plays Tuvia’s love interest. I haven’t seen her in a lot, but she gave a better performance than I knew her to be capable of. Mia Wasikowska is pretty versatile for a young actress. I’ve seen her in a variety of things and her versatility impresses me. Mark Feuerstein and several other actors and actresses play the civilians in the Bielski camp and they were all convincing.

This movie had a good look and feel too. It looked authentic, it felt authentic, and had some great scenery. The clothing was great, the actors were appropriate dirty and sickly looking, and the forest they used as the backdrop was convincing. Where they filmed it, I do not know. But real sets almost always look better than an animated backdrop. You read that Hollywood?

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on November 26, 2014.