It may not have the dramatic weight of Schindler’s List or the incredible gritty action of Saving Private Ryan, but Defiance still manages to
find its place among the many great (and not so great) World War II films.
Part of that can be owed to its story, which follows a group of Polish Jews who escape the mass killings of their people and begin a new life
in the forest. They build homes, have forest weddings and some even fight back against the Nazis.
They are led by the Bielski brothers, played by Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber. Craig and Schreiber’s performances are also an essential
part of why Defiance works. They are both excellent. Craig plays the straight man here. He refuses to turn away anyone despite the
insistence of his brother and the dwindling food supply.
Schreiber is the harsher, tough guy and his impressive and almost frightening presence should give a lot of hope to those looking forward
to his upcoming role as Sabretooth in the Wolverine spin-off.
Director Edward Zwick is no stranger to period epics, and he shows his skill here with very good pacing and just the right balance of drama
The film is also boosted by Eduardo Serra’s gorgeous cinematography, which manages to be muted and lush at the same time. You can
almost taste the air of the wet forests.
Nearly as impressive is the sound design, which combines fantastic and thunderous effects perfectly with dialog and the relatively subtle
And speaking of that score, it definitely deserved that Oscar nomination. James Newton Howard’s music is haunting and beautifully
performed by violin soloist Joshua Bell.
The problem with Defiance isn’t so much that it does anything wrong, it’s that it just isn’t as exceptional as other entries from this period in
The characters are enjoyable and well acted, but I wouldn’t say they are memorable. Nor is the story powerful enough to be a genuinely
emotional experience. And the action is along the same lines.
But despite this, Defiance tells a good story and is exceedingly well-produced. While it may not break new ground in the genre, it is a good
film in its own right and is easily recommended.
* * *
(out of four)
Directed by: Edward Zwick
Written by: Clayton Frohman and Edward Zwick
Starring: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell, Alexa
Davalos, Allan Corduner
Cinematography by: Eduardo Serra
Music by: James Newton Howard
Released: December 31, 2008; 137 Minutes