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Defiance Review

Short Version: A solid movie with good performances dealing with a terrible time, but falls a bit short in places. Good, but not great.

Release: January 16th 2009

Genre: War/Drama

Director: Edward Zwick

Staring: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell


» Review

Defiance Review

By John - January 21, 2009 - 10:17 America/Montreal

Hey there folks. Thanks for checking out our Defiance Review.

When Daniel Craig burst onto the collective consciousness as the newest James Bond (and in my opinion, the best one ever), I instantly become interested in anything he was involved in. Heck, I was even up to seeing him in The Golden Compass and The Invasion (ouch… painful memory). So when I heard about him staring in a true story about Jewish warriors who lived and hid in the woods during the Nazi occupation of his homeland… I thought “Hell yeah”! My excitement got even bigger when I heard that Edward Zwick, director of Blood Diamond and The Last Samurai, was helming the project.

As Ricky Gervais pointed out at the Golden Globes the other night: “The only problem with holocaust films is that you can’t put a funny gag reel on the DVD”. So true. Not a lot of laughs expected.


The synopsis for Defiance reads something like this: “Inspired by a true story, director Edward Zwick’s epic World War II drama Defiance tells the tale of three Jewish Eastern European brothers (Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, and Jamie Bell) who narrowly escape certain death at the hands of the Nazis, subsequently vowing to avenge the deaths of their loves ones by launching a desperate battle against the forces that seek to exterminate their entire race. The year is 1941, and the setting is Nazi-occupied Poland. The Final Solution is in full effect, and the Jews of Eastern Europe are being slaughtered wholesale. Tuvia (Craig), Zus (Schreiber), and Asael (Bell) have miraculously managed to escape into the dense surrounding forest. Having played in these woods since childhood, the brothers have a distinct advantage over their adversaries, and soon decide that simply surviving is not enough. In order to make a difference, they must take action, but in order to take action they will need support. As whispers of their bravery take wind, others like them appear determined to lay their lives on the line for the cause of freedom. Tuvia has become the de facto leader of the group, but he’s still somewhat reluctant to take on such a heavy responsibility and his brother Zus expresses concern that his idealistic plan will ultimately bring about the group’s downfall. With winter setting in, everyone works to create a functioning community that will help them endure the frigid months that lie ahead, and Asael reluctantly finds himself caught in the crossfire of his older siblings’ rivalry. Is it possible to keep faith alive in a time when the world seems devoid of humanity and survival becomes a way of life?”


There is something inherently powerful about great human tragedy that brings out the very best in human beings. It seems that when faced with our most daunting challenges that the true strength of the human spirit, the human will to survive, the human will to be… human, truly comes out. Therein lay the power of holocaust films. The movies are set against one of the most tragic eras of human history, which ultimately sets the stage for some of the greatest human stories of courage, endurance, kindness and resolve. This is were the main strength of Defiance shines. The filmmakers make my gut hurt seeing the horror and the pain and the loss all these people suffered… but in that horror, in that pain and in that loss something is birthed out of them that inspires me. It is a cold reminder about just how small most of our daily problems really are that we complain about so much and it shames me when I see stories of people facing so much more than me exhibiting so much more strength than me. More of us need these sorts of reminders I think.

When you have these sorts of human stories, it’s essential that the performers bring out that humanity. On this point I can’t say enough about the performances by both Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber. The raw mixture of pure fear, pure anger, pure sorrow, pure rage all at different times and in different mixtures allowed me as a viewer to really FEEL their circumstances which allowed to me to them experience the story on an entirely different level. Damn, I can’t wait to see Schreiber as Sabertooth in the upcoming Wolverine movie.

One of the things that often poses a road bump for films like this is that the director gives in to the temptation to make the good guys pure good, and the bad guys completely inhuman. Fortunately the director resists this simple way and embraces the full humanity of the Bielski brothers… showing them as heroes, yes. Showing them as brave… yes. But also showing them as flawed. Real men facing the real hardship and struggles both morally and physically and faced with choices they never thought they’d have to make… and sometimes making the wrong ones… doing the wrong things. This to me made the characters even more relatable and inspiring.


Unfortunately, Defiance sort of misrepresents itself. The ads and synopsis tell us and give the impression that it’s about a group of warriors who take to the woods to fight the Germans. That’s not really the case. It’s about a group of scared and desperate survivors who gather together in the woods to survive and hide. Some of the ads give you the impression that you’re about to see a Jewish version of “Red Dawn“, but that really isn’t the case here.

The film is guilty of some repetitiveness. For example, I didn’t really feel the need to see a love story and interest between one of the brothers and a woman in the new hidden village. I certainly didn’t need to see a love story and interest between TWO of the brothers and women in the new hidden village. But I just had nothing left to do but roll my eyes when we had to see love interests with ALL THREE brothers. Yes, I get it… finding beauty in harsh circumstances… I get it. Oh… you didn’t hear me and you felt the need to do it twice. Ok, I get it. Oh… you still didn’t hear me and felt I was so stupid you had to show it to me 3 times. Gaaaa.

In the same vein of repetitiveness, there was a very powerful scene when new survivors would wander into the hidden village brining news of the Germans killing Jews in a certain town. A current member of the village who had loved ones in that town would hear the news and start to cry and weep. It was a solid device that hammered home the extent of the circumstances these people were in. However… about 10 minutes later they did the EXACT SAME THING. New people arrive with news of German atrocities in a town, and someone with loved ones in the town get a scene of their weeping. THEN IT HAPPENED AGAIN about 20 minutes later. Yes… I get it… move on.


Defiance is an inspiring story about bravery and humanity in the midst of the worst of human circumstances. Solid performances by the leads giving real substance the characters and overall giving a sense of hope. The film has weaknesses in it’s execution and repetitiveness of certain themes that become distracting and it’s really not the movie it advertises itself to be. Still, a solid film that I would recommend. Overall I give Defiance a 7.5 out of 10.


  1. Kristina says:

    The ads reminded me of Jew Braveheart with Craig rousing the troops on horseback. Thanks for the heads-up on the semi bait-and-switch advertising.

  2. don says:

    not sure if you know this but this story is based on actual events..I was at the premier with the relatives of the real life characters…and I think the repetition was to drive home the point of how many people those evil germans killed.

  3. JPEF says:

    Go to http://www.jewishpartisans.org/defiance for free educator materials about the Bielskis as well as a guide on Ethics and Defiance. There are also profiles and short films about former Bielski partisans.

  4. Dragonslayer says:

    I wish I could’ve seen this…but I’m saving my money for Watchmen

  5. tomaz says:

    Does this movie mentions Jewish Kommisars, and NKVD running rampant in Bielarus? Or is it another “Shindler List” type of thing?

  6. GEORGE says:

    Since I watched Titanic I was never so moved by a movie as i was when watching Defiance

  7. Alden says:

    I agree about the misleading advertising. Maybe they thought there wasn’t an audience for the movie they actually made, which is a shame.

    I disagree about the repetition of having Jews find the community and then report about the deaths of people they knew. It was the repetition that made it so powerful — first of all, that people from widely scattered areas had heard of and managed to find the forest camp, and secondly, that everyone in the camp had friends and relatives who didn’t make it out. As they received this devastating news over and over again, they had to realize how widespread the killing was, and that the survivors were going to be the minority.

  8. HistoricallyAccurate says:

    Just wondering, did the movie show the decapitations of German soldiers carried out by the rebels, in particular by the Daniel Craig character?

  9. DM says:

    ThYour review corner sucks. Sry to say that but its been long time since your last review :S lots of big movies out there.

  10. Kris says:

    Defiance was great. It was exciting, inspirational, and emotional. It was a great example of how an actionmovie should be. This movie should be remembered with Saints and Soldiers, Valkrye, Saving Private Ryan, and Band of Brothers as one of the best World War 2 films. At

  11. movies says:

    This is a very good movie about some real-life heroes from World War II. In an age when we need to create heroes because there are so few around us, here are some to inspire greatness among the rest of us. The film is well-acted and, although longish, it moves fairly smoothly.

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