I’ve always felt that there were a lot of stories of the holocaust that are either forgotten, ignored or completely fabricated in order to paint the Jewish community in either a positive or negative light, depending on the person telling the story. People unfamiliar with the holocaust usually have the common question; why didn’t they fight back? Of course, that answer is so complex that it would take a doctorate thesis to answer. But as rare as their fighting back was, it did happen and DEFIANCE is one such story. If you ask me, it’s long overdue.
The story of DEFIANCE is a good one; the Bielski brothers lead a large group of Jewish survivors through the forests of Germany during WW2. Two of the brothers (Daniel Craig and Balthazar Getty) are competing alpha males and each has a different view of their place in the war. Tuvia (Craig) thinks that their goal should be survival, while Zus (Getty) feels their goal should be revenge on the Nazis. For most of the film, Zus fights with the Russian army while Tuvia works on helping his followers build a community and avoid being captured by the Nazis.
I liked the main story. The idea of the Jewish people surviving in the woods and fighting back against the Nazis is a great story and one that needed to be told. Unfortunately, the film tended to lose focus and got wrapped up in three different love stories. Each brother had his own woman and there was conflict between each couple. I wasn’t a fan of the love stories and felt that they only served to drag things along. This should’ve been a much more intense film than what it was. After all, they’re hiding in the woods with few weapons while being hunted by the most ruthless army of the past few hundred years. But the impending doom was lost several times because we had to break away and dive into the love drama.
I would consider myself a fan of Edward Zwick, but this film felt very choppy. Nothing was smooth and each scene felt like it was dragging against the grain. I got the feeling they didn’t know where they were going with the film because the transitions from scene to scene were too sharp and quick. The dialogue was also a problem in that some of the lines felt forced. There was a time in the beginning of the film, where they meet the first of their followers and almost every actor is just a second or two off in delivering their lines. It’s something I would expect in a B-movie, not a Zwick film. I’m not sure why it was like that, but the quality of acting was up and down throughout the film. Craig and Getty had their moments, but for the most part, I was let down by their performances.
DEFIANCE isn’t a bad film by any means. It’s actually pretty decent, I just feel that they missed an opportunity. They made some questionable decisions with the structure of the story and that prevented the movie from ever taking off. A lot of times, the challenge for a filmmaker is to make a dull moment intense. This is a rare instance where a director makes an intense moment, dull.