Not just another WWII movie

Starring Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell. Directed by Edward Zwick. Tinseltown. Rated R.
Rated 4.0

Defiance, like its subject, has flown mostly under the radar, and it may be because its story is actually different from anything we’ve seen before.

There are plenty of great Holocaust movies, but they always revolve around a similar theme: concentration camps. A group of Jews hiding out in the forest and fighting to avoid Nazi capture? That’s too bizarre. But just reading the opening credits gives heft to this unfamiliar tale: “True story.”

Perhaps the one thing that stands out most in the film is the willingness to tell the story—even the unflattering parts—as wholly as possible. The heroes aren’t glorified versions of real human beings; they make mistakes, do things the Ten Commandments condemn.

The film follows the four Bielski brothers as they flee from their village in Belarus into the forest, as the Nazis have placed a price on their Jewish heads. There, their numbers slowly grow.

Tuvia (Daniel Craig), the eldest of the Bielski clan, easily fills the role of leader, with the help of brothers Zus (Liev Schreiber) and Asael (Jamie Bell). But with winter comes sickness and difficulty finding food; and with encounters with Nazis and the Red Army come the ethical question of whether to seek vengeance.

While the story of Jews fighting to retain their freedom during the Holocaust is enticing on its own, it’s really this ethical quandary that keeps the whole thing fresh. Writer and director Edward Zwick (Blood Diamond) doesn’t skirt around it either, instead tackling the issue head-on, as it’s a cause for some major disagreement in camp.

The whole cast is wonderful, all pulling their weight, with some even speaking Russian. Craig is the standout, and here Schreiber, in one of his largest serious roles, shows he’s got the chops to play alongside the newest Bond.

It seems the more time passes, the more glimpses we get into what happened in that part of the world during the Nazi regime. Defiance is a story not yet told but one of great dramatic impact. Hopefully more will follow.