Friday, August 07, 2009

Review: Defiance

True stories make some of the best films. That is certainly the case with Defiance.

Daniel Craig (Tuvia), Liev Schreiber (Zusia), and Jamie Bell (Asael) star as the three Jewish Bielski brothers of Belorussia who, after the slaughter of their family in 1941, take refuge in the lush forest near their home and begin an excruciating fight to stay alive.

It's not long before more hunted Jews join them. Staying alive remains their top priority for awhile and foraging for food and shelter becomes paramount. But as the news of more atrocities spread and as more Jews are slaughtered, the Bielski brothers vow to do more against the tyranny of Nazism. Along with others in the camp, they form a resistance group known as the Bielski Otriad.

The group build their own community in the forest and here, there is no room for dissent. Food must be shared equally, and everyone must do their part - even the intellectuals who previously had never picked up a hammer in their lives or fired a gun are expected to learn.

Through deadly winters and the threat of constant discovery, Tuvia has no choice but to rule with an iron fist, even when his brother, Zusia, decides to join the Russian partisans in striking against the Germans.

The theme running through this movie is the importance of family. The bond between the three brothers is stronger than iron, and even though they have their disagreements, their love for one another is deep. This bond winds through the camp itself as the people realize that they, too, are a family, a community, and must work together to survive. It's an incredible testament to the determination of a people to fight back against overwhelming odds, especially at a time when Jews were seen as victims with no will to fight back. Defiance sheds light on those instances where Jews refused to succumb to their fate.

Yet there is another aspect to Defiance that bears further pondering. While watching the DVD extras, which included interviews with the writers and director of the film, this question was asked: Must you become a monster to defeat a monster? The Bielski brothers were ruthless and there are several scenes in the movie which portray this. Tuvia executes those responsible for his family's death - a father and his two sons - in cold blood. Zusia goes out and kills Germans in revenge for the death of his wife and child. When a German soldier is captured and brought back to the camp, the movie portrays a chilling scene of the Jews beating the soldier to death as they let their overwhelming grief and anger at all of those lost at German hands overtake them.

It's a question worth pondering.

Overall, Defiance is an incredible movie, aptly titled, with solid performances by every cast member. It's also an amazing story of beating the odds. The Bielski's saved more than 1,000 Jews and today, those Jews' descendents number in the thousands.

To find out more about the Bielski brothers, visit the Holocaust Research Project or


Brendon said...

Just want to say thank you for the kind review of Defiance. My Grandfather Tuvia would have been humbled by the attention that he would have received if he was alive. He did always say that "I'll be famous when I am dead".
The legacy of the Bielski Brothers

Melissa Marsh said...

Brendon - Thank YOU for your comment. :-) Your grandfather and great uncles were HEROES. Thank you for keeping their memory alive.

Scott said...

Excellent review Melissa! Wonderful and insightful writing as usual.
Brendon - I am sure that you are very proud of your grandfather. He was a brave man and a true hero from WWII.
- Scott Lyons, The Greatest Generation Society