This Week in Movies: Defiance

World War II is officially back in style (as if it was ever out of style in Hollywood). Over the past year we’ve been dished a number of successful Holocaust dramas (The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Valkyrie) and are now stirred by the arrival of yet another. Edward Zwick’s Defiance tells the true story of the Bielskis, three Russian Jewish brothers who form a small army in the forest to protect themselves from Nazi-occupied Poland.

Like Spielberg’s Munich, Defiance gives the audience what it wants to see: Jews kicking some serious ass. Studio executives at Paramount Vantage recognize that such stories not only deserve to be told but also tend to be greeted fairly well by both critics and audiences. Munich, for example, concluded its theatrical debut with about $130 million worldwide while also garnering five Oscar nominations. Hence, it comes as no surprise that the company invested about $50 million in Defiance.

Still, the big guns in Hollywood don’t always get it right either, as is often the case with Zwick’s new film. After escaping a Nazi seige on their ghetto, Tuvia (played by Daniel Craig), Zus (played by Liev Schreiber) and Aseal Bielski (played by Jamie Bell) make their ways into the depths of the forest. With no other options, they use violence to protect themselves. However, soon enough their interests broaden, as more and more Jews hear word of their cause and choose to fight alongside the brothers. So begins 137 minutes of heavy material that is not always well worth the investment.

First off, why is Daniel Craig cast? The casting decision completely erased the credibility of the story. I mean, let’s be real here; the Holocaust is not exactly James Bond territory. Stick to your roots, my friend.

Secondly, everyone on screen looked like they just got out of the shower. After spending months fending off Nazis in the forest, I assume that people’s clothes would eventually get dirty. There’s this thing in the forest, Edward Zwick, that you may or may not have hear of called “dirt,” which tends to make peoples’ clothing “dirty.” Yet Defiance looked a little too Hollywood throughout.

Even so, the film has good qualities. Both Schreiber and Bell are convincing on-screen. The direction is noteworthy as well for a few very effective sequences, including one in which a marriage and a murder occur at the same time.

Finally, the story in itself is simply a fascinating one for Jews and non-Jews alike. Those who want to see Jews take names will be pleased, though they won’t be the only ones. It’s just a shame that Zwick couldn’t have executed the vision in a more effective manner.

Defiance is playing at the Hamilton Theater now.