“Defiance” is set in Eastern Europe during World War II, but deals with many of the problems we still face. No, not the Nazi conquest of the world. Smaller things, but just as deadly. Fear. Despair. Courage. Leadership that doesn’t lead where we need to go.
Daniel Craig (“Quantum of Solace,” “Infamous”) stars as Tuvia Bielski, one of three brothers who see their parents killed by the advancing German army as it rolls over their small Jewish village. He and brothers Zus (Liev Schreiber “The Omen,” “The Manchurian Candidate”) and Asael (Jamie Bell, “Jumper,” “King Kong”) save a handful of villagers by escaping into the forest, where they soon discover other escapees. Zus wants to strike back, hard and fast. Tuvia understands the need for vengeance, but he also recognizes that most of the refugees they’ve accumulated are not combat material. Their skills are the skills of civilization “ they are intellectuals, homebodies, teachers and doctors, quiet folks for whom a good book at the end of the day is adventure enough. Since rescue means support, and since more survivors from their village as well as others keep drifting in, Tuvia feels the responsibility of keeping them alive.
There is action aplenty in “Defiance.” As the Germans locate the moveable village’s location, they attack. Tuvia and Zus have taught the people basic combat skills and a warrior class develops, containing its own para-Nazi bullies who demand more than their fair share of food and service. One of the movie’s themes is that bare survival may depend on brutality, but that inevitably humanity requires more. As Bertolt Brecht so pragmatically put it, “grub first, then morals.”
OPPOSITION OF THE TWO BROTHERS
Director/co-writer Edward Zwick (“Blood Diamond,” “Glory”) masterfully handles the opposition of the two brothers, blending the larger philosophic question of what it is exactly that separates humans from the rest of the animals, with the accessible story of sibling rivalry. The supporting cast is fine, especially Alexa Davalos (“The Mist”) as Lilka, Tuvia’s “camp wife”” such legal niceties as formal marriage blur with the realities of forest existence. Eduardo Serra’s cinematography makes the forest look romantic and evil by turns.
The script, based on actual people and events, by Zwick and Clayton Frohman contains the usual war movie character clich