On the run and hiding in the deep forests of the then German occupied Poland and Belorussia (World War II), the four Bielski brothers find the impossible task of foraging for food and weapons for their survival. They live, not only with the fear of discovery, contending with neighboring Soviet partisans and knowing whom to trust but also take the responsibility of looking after a large mass of fleeing Polish Jews from the German war machine. Women, men, children, the elderly and the young alike are all hiding in makeshift homes in the dark, cold and unforgiving forests in the darkest times of German occupied Eastern Europe.(Imdb)
What would have happened if the Nazis stormed the Nowogrodek ghetto and found James Bond lying in wait? What if they had then ploughed into the neighbouring forests of Belarus only to be confronted by a band of armed-to-the-teeth Rambo
Defiance tackles the true-life tale of the Bielski partisans, a group of rural Jews who waged war against the Germans from their stronghold in the woods. It stars Daniel Craig as Tuvia, the resolute elder brother, Liev Schreiber as Zus, the bull-necked middle sibling, and Jamie Bell as sensitive little Asael, who is destined to either come of age or die a tragic death (or possibly both). At one stage, the Bielskis are brought before a Russian colonel who looks them scornfully up and down. “Jews don’t fight,” he scoffs. “These Jews do,” growls Tuvia.
The Bielskis are an appealing subject because they provide such a steroid antidote to the other films of their genre. They allow director Ed Zwick to take the soulful, passive victims of a hundred Holocaust dramas and replace them with action heroes. It is a very Hollywood riposte to a very Hollywood stereotype; a film that sends one set of cliches to eat another.
So the Bielskis set up their “Jerusalem in the woods” and people it with the huddled masses from the ghetto. We meet the tubercular rabbi and the nebbish intellectual; the sloe-eyed maiden and the inevitable bad apple. Zus squabbles with Tuvia and defects to join the Russian forces. Tuvia proves his heroic credentials by parading through camp on a white horse, and then proves his humanistic ones by promptly shooting it when the rations run dry. Eventually the Nazis wade in and the partisans are flushed from the forest and cornered on the edge of the wetlands. “God will not part these waters,” declares little Asael, who has come of age at last. “We shall have to do it ourselves.”
Is this what Defiance wants to be: a second world war Exodus with Moses recast as a guerilla leader? If so, it is only partly successful. The story of the Bielski partisans is undeniably fascinating. Perhaps it even lends itself to this self-consciously mythic retelling. For all that, I’m not sure that Zwick’s brawny fraternal epic – ringing with mortar shells, stuffed with cardboard archetypes – quite does it justice. Defiance makes a noise but leaves no echo. It feels progressively more bogus and less significant the further it recedes from view, and myths are meant to wax in the memory, not wane.