Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Movie Review: Defiance (2008)

"We have no more prayers, no more tears; we have run out of blood. Choose another people. We have paid for each of Your commandments; we have covered every stone and field with ashes. Sanctify another land. Choose another people. Teach them the deeds and the prophesies. Grant us but one more gift: take back our holiness. Amen."

The year is 1941 and the Nazi are rounding up and killing Jews all across Eastern Europe. Three brothers, the Bielski's, manage to escape the carnage. Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Liev Schreiber) and Asael (Jamie Bell) take refuge in the forest they played in as children. They come upon other fugitives who ran to the woods for safety. Together they survive as a ragtag community. Led by Tuvia, the group takes food from surrounding farms and ambush German patrols when they can, acquiring weapons and ammunition. These raids coupled with 'roughing it in the bush' causes friction amongst the brothers, eventually leading to a power struggle. All the while the group is hunted, forced to relocate when they are discovered to avoid capture.

The Good:

Daniel Criag and Liev Schreiber are the cornerstones of this movie. They did an excellent job in roles that I never expected to see them in. Craig is less stoic and silent here then in his two previous roles as James Bond.

The accents, whether Belorussian or Russian, sounded authentic. This made the characters more believable instead of just seeing them as actors playing a part although at times, Craig's English accent snuck in.

The cinematography was well done in this piece. Very clean cut and illustrative though there was one point near the beginning that suffered from shaky cam syndrome.

I loved the various humourous tidbits throughout the film. They weren't a cheap attempt on the part of the writers as the dialogue was actually funny. It did help to relieve some of the tension and lighten the mood because the subject of the film is so depressing and painful.

It was interesting to see how the brothers diverged and yet their actions became contrary to their opinions about war and violence. The viewer also gets to witness the complexities of group dynamics and how far you can push a person before they're forced into violence or something against their nature.

The Bad:

The romantic storyline had no place in this movie and only distracted from the more exciting storyline of survival. It was an unnecessary bit of fluff for all three brothers to end up in relationships and it even felt contrived for Craig and Schreiber's characters. If I were to keep just one of the relationships, it would be Asael's. At least his storyline with Chaya was more natural in the way it was introduced and how it progressed. I don't know why filmmakers insist on adding romance to war films. Maybe they think they need to have a little bit of everything to pull in as many people as possible. Usually it just ends up cluttering the real story.

I felt manipulated by the director when it came to how I felt about the plot and the characters. It was obvious from the start that a power struggle would occur between the two eldest brothers. As well, the marriage scene was too perfect. The way the snow fell, the wedding clothes, everything wasn't grungy enough for me. It was all too nice overall, within this woods where everyone was living hand to mouth, going days without food.

It would have been nice to see even more of the struggle in the woods or raids on German patrols. The time spent on the romantic storyline could easily have been taken up with illustrating more of how this ever-growing group of people survived or how word of the Bielski brothers managed to spread.

If you're not a fan of violence then I would be wary of this movie. There are a few graphic cringe-worthy scenes.

The Ugly:

Somebody find Eli Wallach.

Rating: 4/5

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