Defiance (2008)
Defiance (2008)

Genre: War Running Time: 2 hr. 17 min.

Release Date: December 31st, 2008 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Edward Zwick Actors: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell, Alexa Davalos, Allan Corduner, Jodhi May, Kate Fahy, Iben Hjejle




irector Edward Zwick (“The Last Samurai,” “Blood Diamond,” “Courage Under Fire”) likes his epic war films full of tragedy and thick accents. With “Defiance,” he’s chosen a seldom-explored true story of Jewish rebels fighting back against their Nazi aggressors in the Belarusian forest – a tale again charged with visual and emotional conflict. But even with the stage set for heart-wrenching drama and grievous wartime attrition, the script can’t quite manage enough pathos for its band of oddly anti-heroic protagonists to create a lasting impression.

To escape Nazi-occupied Poland during the onset of World War II, three Jewish brothers, Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Liev Schreiber), and Asael Bielski (Jamie Bell), flee to the Belarusian forest, where they encounter several other refugees. After suffering numerous casualties from hasty attacks on German soldiers, Tuvia decides that revenge should be substituted for survival tactics. He begins constructing a secure village in the forest to shelter his comrades, alongside the growing influx of Jews fleeing Poland. Zus, opposed to Tuvia’s peaceful measures, opts to join Russian partisans operating nearby – awaiting fate and a common enemy that will force the brothers’ paths to cross once again.

“Defiance” certainly feels like an Edward Zwick film, brimming with heavy, dramatic action, large-scale conflicts, and historical significance. But like his other political and war driven pieces, this new effort falls short of becoming something truly special due to a lack of investment with the characters. The settings, costumes, cinematography, and acting are all first-rate, but the development of lead roles and even supporting characters leaves something to be desired – especially when the end of the film abruptly rolls around and great revelations or powerfully emotional moments remain curiously absent.

“Defiance” focuses on an uncommon chapter from the melting pot of World War II participants, gaining points for bringing to the forefront the horrors and triumphs of a band of unlikely survivors who achieved the impossible. But like the middle part of a trilogy, the film is paced slowly and concludes anticlimactically, as if it were fashioned to be a mere segment of a much larger plot – one that struggles to get to the action before ultimately losing steam as it heads toward a set of inevitable summaries to abbreviate subsequent, un-visualized conclusions. Without tearjerker moments or cinematically inspiring characters, “Defiance” is a project likely to remain as obscure as its subject matter – a historically significant component of World War II that should have been better represented.

– The Massie Twins

  • 6/10