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cast: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell, Jodhi May, and Alexa Davalos

director: Edward Zwick

131 minutes (15) 2008
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Momentum DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by James A. Stewart
Throughout the years there have been some movies that have played fast and loose with the term 'based on true events'. Some notable examples from recent history would be Braveheart, Titanic, and Pearl Harbour. The former two both brushed off criticisms to become cinematic legends for different reasons, and were of course multiple Oscar winners. Pearl Harbour was utter shit.

In the case of Defiance, Oscar-winning director Edward Zwick (Blood Diamond) takes a little known resistance story from World War II and turns into a quite commendable movie. However, there is much rancour about the historical accuracy of the story. It is based on the exploits of the Bielski brothers, a rebellious quartet of siblings who are credited with saving over 1,200 Jews from certain death. Defiance is criticised mostly for the fact that the story is based mainly on the memories of the brothers and fails to represent some of the more critical interpretations of their actions from the time.

The Bielski brothers were accused of tormenting the peasants and population in and around the area in which they were hiding. It was said that in order to fuel their resistance they had to steal from the poor. It was also levelled against the brothers that they stumbled into heroic action, as opposed to proactively seeking conflict with the German war machine of the day, a charge that is called loudest from some of the more unrecognised resistance heroes from WWII.

So that's the main points of order in respect to some of the contention surrounding the film's handling of the subject matter. As a detached piece of cinema, Defiance is a really good movie with some major plus points. Most of stellar cast perform well; Daniel Craig shows a level of performance I thought above him as the lead brother, Tuvia. James Bonds are not known for their elasticity in style and accent (Sean Connery anyone?) but Craig does well here. Jamie Bell recovers from the awful Jumper and is arguably underused as Asael Bielski. George MacKay, as Aron, and Liev Schreiber, as Zus, make up the rest of the siblings. Of the four, Schreiber is most disappointing and given his current stock in Hollywood circles, this was a little surprising.

Aesthetically, Zwick gives us a well shot, polished and honed movie. It is filmed in the classic rough but polished way that only big-budget movies can achieve. There are some slight parallels with Schindler's List in parts and while jungle warfare is a well trodden path, Zwick does gives us an easy-on-the-eye movie, but does not shy away from some of the more gory aspects of war.

This is an obscure story in many ways, but one in which there is now a lot of reading material surfacing. It is an excellent movie in its own right, the acting is good, the script a bit American, the production and direction are solid and there is a sombre empathy throughout. Sure, there is a big giant dollop of poetic licence all over it, and this will anger some, but as a piece of cinema Defiance is most enjoyable.

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