Editors' pick

Defiance

Defiance movie poster
MPAA rating: R
Genre: Drama
Based on a true story, three brothers (Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell) escape from World War II Poland to take refuge in the Belarusian forest, where they turn their daily struggle for survival into a battle against the Nazis.
Starring: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell
Director: Edward Zwick
Running time: 2:16
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Editorial Review

It's impossible to watch "Defiance" without experiencing a vicarious thrill of resistance and revenge. Edward Zwick's often-stirring movie dramatizes the true story of Zus and Tuvia Bielski (Liev Schreiber and Daniel Craig), Jewish brothers who eluded their Nazi captors during World War II in what is now Belarus. With a younger brother, Zus and Tuvia helped their fellow Jews escape the German SS and their collaborators by hiding in a forest and joining forces with the Red Army.

"Defiance" chronicles the beginning of the Bielskis' two-year sojourn, when Tuvia and Zus disagreed over tactics, with the former building a proto-kibbutz in the woods and the latter fighting more actively with the Soviets. Zwick ("Glory," "The Last Samurai") has perfected the art of marrying bombastic action, aestheticized violence and historical import, and he marshals all three effectively to bring this little-known and amazing story to life. Craig and Schreiber are terrific as the slightly thuggish Bielskis, and they're joined by an able supporting cast that includes Jamie Bell and the wonderful Mia Wasikowska (the young gymnast from HBO's "In Treatment").

If "Defiance" has its share of movie-moments (too-perfect lighting, too-eloquent speeches, too-tidy fight scenes) that's because Zwick knows how to bring mainstream Hollywood values to bear on what could be forgotten or marginalized truths. Here, viewers are treated not only to the cathartic pleasures of watching a band of Jewish outlaws gun down their Nazi oppressors, but also to the ambiguous truth that for righteousness to prevail, it helps to have a little larceny in your heart.


-- Ann Hornaday (Jan. 16, 2009)
Contains violence and profanity. In Russian, Yiddish and English with subtitles.