After seeing trailers for Defiance, I was keen to see it. I’ve always been interested in the history and stories of World War II and as this film was based on true events during Nazi occupation, the base was there for a potentially gripping film.
Starring Daniel Craig and Jamie Bell, Defiance is set in Eastern Europe in 1941. Adolf Hitler is fully behind his plan to eradicate all Jews, and for all accounts, his plan is working. Thousands and thousands are massacred daily, either gassed or forced to dig ditches to bury the dead and then shot – the force of the bullets propelling them into the very holes they’ve just created.
On arriving at their parents’ farm, brothers Zus (Liev Schreiber) and Asael Bielski (Jamie Bell) find their mother and father slaughtered at the hands of the Nazis. Fearing also for the life of their youngest brother Aron (George MacKay), they search the grounds and mercifully find him hiding underneath some floorboards in an outhouse. Knowing that the Nazis will come back to the farm to try and find the family members they did not kill the first time, the Bielskis gather what belongings they can and disappear into the Belarussian forests.
Soon, though, they are confronted by a welcome face. Tuvia (Daniel Craig), the oldest Bielski brother, is travelling through the woods and discovers his brothers sleeping rough amongst the trees. They have an emotional reunion in the woods, made more overwhelming by the fact the others have to break the news to Tuvia that their parents are dead, murdered by order of the Nazis.
They know they cannot go back to their village as they will be hunted down like dogs, so decide that their only choice is to hide in the woods. It soon becomes apparent, though, that they are not the only ones that have had this idea. They come across more and more groups of Polish Jews hiding in the forest, desperate not to be herded into ghettos, or worse, concentration camps. They know if they are caught their chances of survival are slim, but living in the forest is difficult with little food and shelter.
After murdering the officer that commanded his parents’ death, Tuvia doesn’t feel much better. He realises that the best way to get revenge on Hitler and his cronies is simply to survive. Tuvia forms the Bielski Otriad, a group of partisans. They begin to live together as a community – foraging for food, building shelter and acquiring weapons. They also liberate some of their brethren from the ghettos and reunite separated families. Their group grows and grows, giving them strength, but also making them more difficult to hide.
What follows is the tale of how a determined band of brothers gather and protect over 1,000 persecuted Jews and emerge from the Belarussian forest three years later.
Defiance is, in spite of what many critics seem to be saying, a gripping film. You are drawn in immediately by genuine footage from the war, which serves to remind you that what you are about to watch really happened. The story was filmed on location in Lithuania, providing stunning backdrops to what is an enthralling story.
Daniel Craig, Jamie Bell and the relative unknowns Liev Schreiber and George MacKay all shine in this film. They do a grand job of portraying the Bielski brothers and the violent range of emotions they must have been feeling as their lives were turned upside down. I was glued to the screen, and really got caught up in the emotions of the story. After all, this really happened. People were given no choice but to run for their lives – or face Nazi concentration camps and firing squads.
Overall, I recommend checking this out, particularly if you have an interest in the period. It’s a touching story and does a very good job of bringing the brave actions of the brothers before the eyes of the world.
28 January 2009