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Starring: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell, Alexa Devalos, Tomas Arana

Directed by: Edward Zwick

Produced by: Edward Zwick, Pieter Jan Brugge

Written by: Edward Zwick, Clay Frohman

Distributor: Paramount Vantage

     Defiance is very much an Edward Zwick picture in that it features adrenaline-pumping action and accurately-portrayed history, but it’s missing the filmmaker’s trademark fusion of the two elements. While the movie’s plot may not have lent itself to such a seamless integration—seen in Glory, Blood Diamond, and The Last Samurai—the absence is noticeable in the sharp contrast between the movie’s cumbersome second act and procedural third act.

     Defiance tells the story of brothers Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Liev Schreiber), and Asael (Jamie Bell) Bielski, who led a massive group of Jews hiding from the Nazis in the forests of Poland during World War II. The set-up is engaging and does not shy from moral complexity in depicting the Bielskis’ frequent stealing to sustain, but it soon gives way to long and tiresome passages of the growing group of refugees fighting to survive a harsh winter. However miraculous the true story behind said passages may be, they feel redundant and overwrought. In the third act, they are replaced by a bullet-filled showdown between the group and the Nazis, which is riveting in the suspenseful way it depicts David-vs.-Goliath warfare, but like so many other Hollywood action sequences doesn’t have a thought in its head.

     While Defiance would’ve been a stronger movie had Zwick been able to better mesh the slower passages with the action-filled ones through swifter pacing, it seems the film’s problematic core structure was inescapable in remaining true to a little-known story that deserved to be told accurately. The only clear way Zwick could’ve improved the picture would’ve been cutting the sagging second act, which would’ve depicted the grueling nature of the group’s survival just as well had it been 20 minutes shorter. As is, Defiance serves as a mostly entertaining depiction of history with three terrific lead performances and a stylistically engaging (if empty) final third. And the film’s grandeur, albeit less refined than that of a typical Zwick production, makes it worth seeing on the big-screen.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 12.31.2008

Screened on: 12.31.2008 at Pacific's The Grove in Los Angeles, CA.


Defiance is rated R and runs 137 minutes.

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