Defiance (2008) – REVIEW

by Jordache Wee

Release Date: December 31, 2008
Directed by: Edward Zwick
Language: English, Russian, German
Music by: James Newton Howard
Starring: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell, George MacKay, Alexa Davalos, Mia Wasikowska, Allan Corduner, Iben Hjejle, Tomas Arana, Mark Feuerstein, Jodhi May, Kate Fahy, Ravil Isyanov

By mid-August 1941, the Nazi Occupation has expanded their empire across the Eastern Poland and heading towards the Soviet’s soil. Under Hitler’s leadership, the Jews are to be annihilated from the surface of earth.

The Bielski brothers are the remaining Jews whom were not executed nor headed to the ghettoes. They are Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Liev Schreiber), Asael (Jamie Bell), and Aron (George MacKay). Their parents and neighbors in the village were murdered by their local police under strict orders from the Gestapo. Leaving no choice but to run into the Belarusian Forest while they swore to avenge the death of their parents.

While in the forest, the brothers encounter other Jews on the run. The deeper they get into the forest, the more Jews are found hiding and the Bielski brothers vowed to protect his people. Despite his brother, Zus does not agreed in this matter.

On that night, Tuvia went over to Konstanty “Koscik” Kozlowski home for food and a pistol with 4 bullets. He had vodka with his Polish friend when suddenly a German jeep passes by. Tuvia hid upstairs in the barn along with the other Jews.

The barn caught the German captain on suspicion but Koscik managed to direct the German off the course. After the Germans left, Tuvia questioned if the Belarusian Police Officer Bernicki (Sigitas Rackys) is the one who followed the Gestapo order and murdered both his parents. Koscik nodded.

Upon returning to Lipciszanka Forest Camp, Zus was stunned with the large group of people that Tuvia has brought along together. Zus claimed that there will not be enough food for that many amount of people in the forest.

The Jewish refugees has grown by the hundreds which includes both young and old folks. Tuvia and Zus recruits any Jews who are capable and willing to risk their lives for the sake of the community. Tuvia is a good leader in observing the floorplan before raiding local farms and houses for foods and ammunitions yet he rather save more Jew than to kill more Germans.

Two men came pointing his rifle asking for food and Zus confronted them without fear and asked them if they would should a Jew. Both men were surprise upon hearing that this is a Jewish community. They said they were from Horodyszece village. Zus questioned them if they knew of Sonia Bielski and their faces nodded that she did not make it.

Zus fled from the conversation as he feels hurtful and in deep anger that he wants to seek revenge.  Tuvia consoles his brother.

That night, Tuvia went over to the Belarusian Police Captain’s home and stomped into their house and pointed his pistol at the captain. He asked why he killed his parents when they are close friends. The captain replied that he has no choice if he would to keep his own family alive. Both of the captain’s sons stood up and Tuvia shot them both and finally the captain as he leaves the woman behind screaming in tears.

The next day, Tuvia formed an “otriad” (partisan detachment). Inspired from the Soviet’s partisans. Therefore, they are known as “The Bielski Otriad”.

At night, a German soldier patrol on a motorcycle was riding by when The Bielski Otriad set a trap and had the soldier felt off his bike as he is killed immediately. Stealing his weapons when a German jeep stopped to find his comrade’s bike but his comrade is nowhere to be found. One of the soldier get off the jeep and took a piss by the roadside forest. While pissing, Zus took a dagger and cut his penis and the soldier screams in agony and died in vain.

Zus went forward killing all the Germans and stole their artillery weapons and ammunitions.  Another truck passes by with a machine gun mounted behind the jeep, shooting arrays in sight. Asael was separated from his brothers. Leaving Tuvia and Zus to return home.

The next morning, both brothers feel guilty and Shimon Haretz (Allan Corduner) told them that they should take what they should instead putting peoples lives in danger.

Soon a man named Ben Zion Gulkowitz (Tomas Arana) arrived with bad news from Vilna. Tuvia kept calm when he hears that about his wife’s situation. Tuvia, Zus and Ben went over to Koscik’s home and was shocked to see Koscik was hung to death with a hanging banner on his neck written: Jew Lover. There, they found Asael was alive and safe along with 2 more Jews, Chaya Dziencielsky (Mia Wasikowska) and Bella (Iben Hjejle).

Tuvia Bielski (Daniel Craig) teasing his brother Asael (Jamie Bell)

While patrolling the forest, Tuvia and Zus encountered the Soviet partisans and they wanted to meet with their commander. Commander of the October Otriad, Victor Panchenko (Ravil Isyanov) introduces himself that he is the loyal soldier of the Red Army and they do not want to get involved with the Jews. Tuvia said that both the Soviets and Jews should join forces because of the same common enemy.

However, rivalry between both brothers Tuvia and Zus soon sparked because Zus does not care for others but himself and his siblings.  As more Jews are brought in the name of Tuvia. Zus called them “malbushim” (pretentious Jews). Zus punched Tuvia in everyone’s face and made him lose his reputation but the fight was stopped by their youngest brother, Aron.

Zus left the camp bringing along those who wants to follow him and join the Soviet partisans. Zus made a pact with the Soviets that they will help them to fight against the Nazis in return for medical supplies, ammunitions and food.

The devastating winter has arrived and the surrounding are becoming more dangerous under the snow-covered-terrain. Sickness and starvation has worsen as food supplies are running out.

Tuvia trying to convince the people in the ghetto are bound to death camp

Tuvia continues to save more people and those who from the ghetto. Chaya’s parents were saved from the ghetto thus marrying Asael.

Chaya (Mia Wasikowska) and Asael Bielski (Jamie Bell)

The Bielski community moves on deeper when a German scout spotted their scent. They rebuilt their home each time they moved and that way they can keep their faith alive.

Now situated in Naliboki Forest Camp, Tuvia found someone who cared for him – Lilka Ticktin (Alexa Davalos), a university student who studies music.

One of his men feels frustrated when he thinks that the people who hunted food should receive a larger portion. Arkady Lubczanski (Sam Spruell) threatens Chaya and called her names. Tuvia intervenes and settled the problems.

The following day, Arkady further harassed the community and assumed of taking charge. Asael’s face was extremely bruised most likely taking punches from Arkady. Tuvia came and called on Arkady a few time until he finally turns around. Arkady proclaimed this village as his and that Tuvia is not fit to lead. Tuvia shot Arkady dead.

He told the rest of people that if anyone wanted to leave may do as they please. The winter becomes worsen as epidemic disease such as typhus can be fatal. Tuvia went over to the Soviet partisan’s camp not far away from the village and request for medical aid but the Soviets denied his request as the medications are only for the soldiers.

Zus plans to sabotage the Germans radio transmitter

In the same time, Zus was around and convinced the Commander Victor that he and his brother knew a way to sabotage the German’s radio transmitter. Tuvia was the driver when Zus invaded and killed all the Germans that night and retrieved some medicines for his brother and the community.

A couple of days later, a German patrol jeep was sighted crossing the bridge. A German soldier was caught and he was murdered by the angry Jew mobs. Then a German spy plane flew across from above. Tuvia’s instinct told him to tell the people to move to another area because the Germans has most likely spotted their location.

Unfortunately, German’s dive bombers – Henschel Hs 132 just bombed the forest camp. Many died in the aftermath, German infantry then enter the forest massacring whoever stood in their way.

Zus defeated the Panzer III

Tuvia led the community and crosses over the field of marshes and reached towards the Soviet borderline when they were ambushed by Panzer III. The community went hiding while The Bielski Otriad fought to defend their people when Zus returned in time to help his brother and eventually defeated the tank.

Reviewer’s Note:
Defiance was based on a true story written by Nechama Tec. The Bielski Otriad and the brotherhood are somewhat a tale of heroes saving their race from the holocaust and ghettoes.

It is a film about anti-Semitism and racism. It’s about survivor. It’s about helping each other and not hate each other. It’s about defending against ruthless evil.

The Operation Barbarossa in this film is just small part of it. The Bielski Otriad has helped 1,200 Jews to survive.

Liev Schreiber puts up a thick European accent which sounds very convincing. Although I know his family background came from Europe but it is rarely seen and heard of him putting himself to act as Zus. 

Daniel Craig will always remind  us about James Bond. But he’s not my preferred James Bond at all. He certainly carries the role of a loving brother and does not make hasty decisions.

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