After sampling the fantastical future in Star Trek, I felt it was time to delve into the gritty, real past with Defiance– a film about James Bond, Sabretooth and Billy Elliot fighting Nazis. How could one film posess so much awesome? I had to find out…
Let’s face it, war is rarely done well in films these days. For every Schindler’s List, there are 5 Pearl Harbors. Even the good films always have problems, however. I mean, where were the British soldiers in Saving Private Ryan? I know for a fact that America didn’t single-handedly storm Omaha Beach, so why no Brits? Anyway, Defiance aims to cut the glossy shit and inaccuracies and tell an amazing story, which it does to admirable effect.
Defiance tells the true story of the Bielski brothers Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Liev Schreiber), Asael (Jamie Bell) and Aron (George MacKay) who fled to the Belarussian forest in 1941 after being persecuted by the Nazis. They start to fight back and soon more Jews start joining them and carving out a community in the woods. The story itself is inspirational. When we are told about Hitler and the Nazis, we are taught in plain and simple terms. Nazis = baddies, Jews = victims and naturally, Britain and America = blindingly awesome heroes who rocked out electric guitar solos whilst kicking Hitler in his stupid moustache. Whilst it isn’t too hard to realise that this viewpoint is full of more shit than a Glastonbury Portaloo, you won’t believe how many people adhere to this basic template while waxing lyrical about the glories of war and the like. Hopefully, these insufferable people will see Defiance and realise that yes, maybe the Jews didn’t immediately grab a yellow Star of David to affix to their coats and adopt a downtrodden look as soon as the Nazi party rose to power.
In terms of actors, Daniel Craig was just Daniel Craig with a slightly dodgy accent. The guy’s a good actor, but he never seems to get inside the head of the person he’s playing. He’s good, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that I thought Tuvia Bielski would have little or nothing in common with James Bond. Much more impressive is Liev Schreiber who steals the film as Zus, delivering a memorable performance. Whilst his portrayal did have a lot in common with his Sabretooth character in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (he is the more violence-loving of the two brothers, has funny facial hair) I can forgive him because this film was made first. Jamie Bell pulled off the accent well and continues to impress me by turning in one solid performance after another.
The film is directed by Edward Zwick, who directed Blood Diamond and the oft-overlooked The Last Samurai. My one problem with Zwick films is that they are always Uber Fucking Serious (note the capitals) and often have a very prominent message barely underlying proceedings. His films are always beautifully shot and normally feature some top-notch acting. However, despite all its scenes exploring the human condition, Defiance struck me as a bit…shallow. There is a message here about freedom and humanity but there is rarely any gravitas to it all. There were too many rousing speeches for my liking, considering this is meant to be a genuine account of what went on. The film isn’t all talky-talky Jew-y Jew-y, as there is a lot of action too. The action is done well, with spoonfuls of grit added here and there to make it seem more realistic. Most of this stuff has been seen before though, with one scene in particular being almost a direct rip from the television series Band of Brothers.
Defiance is a very well made, well acted and enjoyable film. It can be funny, touching and harrowing in places too. I just wish Zwick could have set aside his clear love for issues and let the audience take away their own messages from it. When one manipulates real life to tell a story, you end up with a fractured, distorted version of the truth or at very least dirge like Big Brother– something that definitely should be avoided *shudder*.