At the center of Defiance, a true but largely untold story set in 1941 Russia under siege by German troops in World War II, is not the war itself. Neither is it the set of â"true" facts that have since been revealed about how two brothers kept thousands of Jews alive and hidden away from the Nazi SS and Gestapo in the forests of Belarussia. Rather, what really are at play here are the conflicts and differences of opinion held by these two brothers. They're the Bielski's, Tuvia (Daniel Craig) and Zus (Liev Schreiber), both Russian Jews sharing the common goal of survival, but divided in their ideas of what survival is and how it should be achieved.
Tuvia, the oldest, concerns himself with just simply keeping the flock alive, even visiting the Jewish ghettos to rescue scores more from their certain fate. Zus, considerably more hotheaded and irrational, is hell-bent on revenging the murder of their parents, so he eventually joins up with the Russian partisans (or resistance group) to kill Germans.

Most of the story takes place deep within the forest cover where the clan is relatively safe from Operation Barbarossa that saw the rapid conquest of the far western part of the Soviet Union by the Germans. But constant hunger, their growing population and the onset of winter, forces the â"Bielski Otriad," as the survivors became known, to occasionally visit nearby farms and villages to scrounge for food, medicine, and supplies. By the end of the war, they had grown to number in the thousands. Were it not for first-hand accounts that confirm the group's existence, no one would believe such a story. But it probably speaks to both the vastness of the Naliboki Forest as well as to the courage and valor displayed by those who held out for years. Jews have often been criticized as being passive victims to the Nazi atrocities. But we soon learn there is a huge difference between passivity and powerlessness.

DefianceCo-writer/Director Edward Zwick adapts the story from Nechama Tec's Novel, Defiance: The Bielski Partisans and puts together some absolutely stunning battle sequences. His sets are fascinating and the period details as seen through Eduardo Serra's (Blood Diamond) lens are flawless. One stunning sequence overlays a bloody revenge attack by Zus over a wedding in the forest. The scene is about as horrific, and at the same time, as gorgeous as anything you'll see. Machine guns belch their bullets and blood spurts while Tuvia and Zus's little brother is wed in a jubilant Jewish celebration with powdery white snowflakes fluttering through the air. The beleaguered Jewish celebrate while the Germans die. This impactful scene sums up the irony of the entire film... a conflict between the thirst for revenge and the desire to survive. Its impact is reminiscent of a sequence in Spielberg's Munich, which featured the lead character making love while bombs and gunfire simultaneously erupted on an airport tarmac nearby. Abhorrent, yet entrancing.

If there's a weakness to Defiance, it's Zwick's and co-writer Clayton Frohman's dialogue that often feels a bit preachy and overly didactic. We understand the moral and ethical issues at hand just fine by this point and don't need heroic â"God will save us" speeches delivered atop white stallions to get the message across.

Following an initial viewing, we feel as if the story needs a compelling gimmick or some other dramatic element to give it some lift. But upon further examination, we begin to recognize the importance of the story's moral underpinnings and how they continue to resonate even in today's unsettled world. We're made to ask ourselves what is the appropriate response to wanton barbarism? Does â"eye-for-an-eye" retaliation teach the enemy a bitter lesson, or is pacifism a more effective solution? Defiance doesn't provide any answers, but it does tackle head-on the archetype that the persecuted Jews simply laid down, satisfied with their mightier-than-thou intellectualism. Many of them were defiant.

Component Grades
4 stars
2 stars
DVD Experience
3 stars

DVD Details:

Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Language and Sound: English: Dolby Digital 5.1; English: Dolby True HD
Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; director's commentary; making-of featurette; and more.



  • Feature-length commentary track with director Edward Zwick.


  • Return to the forest: the making of Defiance
  • Children of the otriad: the families speak

Number of Discs: 1 with Keepcase Packaging