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Genre War
Year: 2008

Defiance is a film by Edward Zwick, the director of Blood Diamond and The Last Samurai. Zwick’s films show a connection with humanity and nature. The director is able to unify the two, making the environment a part of the characters. In Defiance, the forest forms the backdrop for the majority of the film moving from dry to snowy conditions. The Bielski brothers band a group of Jewish fighters together to establish a safe community in the Belarussian forests for Jewish families in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe. In this “true” story, based on the book by Nechama Tec, the events translate into a reflection of Moses in Egypt and the Israelite escape from oppression. Except Moses is replaced by Tuvia Bielski, played by current Bond - Daniel Craig, the Israelites are substituted by East-European Jews and the Egyptian army are Nazis. Craig is supported by Liev Schreiber (The Machurian Candidate), as his brother Zus Bielski and Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot), as Asael Bielski.

Defiance is a film that follows closely on Valkyrie’s footsteps. Both films deal with humanistic anti-Nazi sentiment and freedom-fighters in an action/thriller format headed by a star with action/spy film credits. The main differences are location, plot, race and a focus on entertainment. Defiance could even be compared to the story of Robin Hood. Firstly, The Bielski brothers co-ordinate routine thefts from local farmers and ambushes on Nazi vehicles: stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Secondly, the Jewish community is outlawed and find refuge in the Belarussian forest: Robin Hood’s band of merry men are sheltered by Sherwood forest. Thirdly, Tuvia and Zus are fighters, with Tuvia in charge and Zus second-in-command: the relationship between Robin Hood and Little John. Defiance blends these familiar story elements together with World War II Europe to create a compelling drama.

Some historians have lambasted Defiance for inaccuracies according to the real story. However, one has to accept that certain liberties are going to be exercised in trying to recreate a true story as a vivid piece of entertainment. Zwick isn’t interested in making a docudrama, he’s more concerned about establishing the conditions and environment the Bielski camp had to endure. This is a survival story and Zwick draws the audience’s attention to the small community in terms of justice, group-think and the will to live. It may be as historically accurate as Braveheart, push the action scenes up a notch and echo Schindler’s List amid a cacophony of other well-worn narrative devices, but it’s the environment’s authenticity, solid performances, compelling story, insightful direction and redemptive light in a time of darkness that make Defiance worth watching.

The bottom line: Gripping.

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