I went into Defiance knowing only one thing about the movie – Daniel Craig was in it. I had a vague idea that it was about war of some kind, from the fleeting glances I’d gotten of the trailers on TV, but I’d never heard a synopsis or seen the trailer until it came in the mail from Netflix. I’m actually glad I didn’t know anything about the movie before seeing it. It made it all the more surprising when I absolutely loved the movie.
Defiance is based on a true story about a family of Jewish brothers in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe that evade capture by living in the forest. As time goes on, more and more escapees join them in the woods, and they build a community. Tuvia Bielski (Daniel Craig) and Zus Bielski (Liev Schreiber) initially escape to the woods with their younger siblings Asael and Aron after finding their parents dead at their farm. After a day or two in the woods, the youngest Bielski, Aron, wanders off, only to return to camp with another family that was seeking refuge in the woods. And so it goes…
The story – most of it based on the real-life Bielski brothers – is powerful. You can read more about the real Bielski brothers at Wikipedia. Over the course of two years, they sheltered 1,200 Jewish people, keeping them alive while the Nazis were killing thousands just outside the woods.
While at first this might seem like a depressing story (after all, there’s nothing joyful about the Holocaust), it’s really a story about hope and family, the essential good in human beings, the need to help one another and band together in times of trouble. Yes, there are sad moments, and the shadow of the six million Jewish people killed during the Holocaust hangs over the movie as a constant reminder that this story is based in fact. However, the overall feel of the movie is very optimistic. It’s about what people can do when they work together to take care of each other. It’s about the power of fighting for your life, no matter how bleak the future seems.
The movie was beautifully acted. Daniel Craig is a very charismatic actor, and slipped into the role of the leader of the Bielski Otriad (as they called themselves) very naturally. Liev Schreiber has been playing the difficult, but eventually helpful, brother a lot lately, and he does a magnificent job here. The younger Bielskis are fantastic, as are the extended cast members, particularly Alexa Davalos (as Lilka Ticktin) and Mark Feuerstein (as Isaac Malbin).
I can’t recommend this movie enough. As soon as the credits rolled, I wanted to watch it over again. Writing my review now, I want to watch it again. Don’t bother with Netflix, go out and buy this as soon as you can. I can guarantee you’ll want to watch it more than once.