Directed by: Edward Zwick
Premise: The true story of the Bielski brothers (Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, and Jamie Bell) who formed a resistance movement and protected a large group of Jewish refugees in the woods of Eastern Europe during World War II.
What Works: One of the many reasons World War II is such a popular topic for films is due to the ease with which Allied forces can be turned into heroes and Axis forces can be cast as irredeemable villains. Working with these easy binaries of good and evil can make for very accessible entertainment but also tempts filmmakers to give in to oversimplified notions of good and evil. But Defiance avoids this trap by placing this very issue front and center; every step of the way the characters are faced with choices that risk making them as bad as the people they are fighting. By doing so, the film goes beyond telling a story just about physical survival and puts the survival of culture and civilization at stake. As the refugees rebuild their lives in the woods they try to recreate civilization and all of the joys and troubles of civilization come with it. This makes the story a terrific microcosm of a culture dealing with a traumatic event and Defiance explores a lot of the issues related to this, weaving them into the story in ways that make narrative sense and add to the peril and the heroism of the characters.
What Doesn’t: If director Edward Zwick has any fault, it is that he tends to slip in his portrayals of violence. In Defiance, as in Blood Diamond, the picture start its portrayal of warfare as horrific human cruelty but shifts, sometimes within the same scene, into action-adventure escapism. It is a subtle flaw but it is worth noting.
DVD extras: Commentary track, featurettes, photo gallery, and trailers.
Bottom Line: Defiance is a very good film. It tells an important and worthwhile story about survival that is extremely entertaining and very thought provoking.
Episode: #250 (August 9, 2009)