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2009-03-19 16:24

What it's about:

Brothers Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Liev Screiber), and Asael (Jamie Bell) flee to a forest in western Belarus to escape the invading Nazis. They pick up a few Jewish stragglers along the way and soon their tiny camp becomes a haven for those looking for an alternative to execution. When Zus learns that his family has been killed, he is consumed with rage and decides to mount an offensive against his old town, killing both collaborators and Germans. As the number of people hiding in the forest grow, starvation and disease set in, prompting infighting and desperate measures.

What we thought of it:

"Why is it so f**ing hard being friends with a Jew?" quips Konstanty Kozlowski (Jacek Koman), a friend of Tuvia Bielski, after narrowly escaping a cartoonishly evil police squad hunting for Jews. "Try being one," replies Tuvia, in a not entirely un-Arnie like growl, setting the tone for the rest of the film. These Jews chew gum and kick ass - and they’re all out of gum, apparently.

With recent hard-hitting dramas like The Reader, Sophie Scholl and The Counterfeiters tackling WW2 and the complex issues of evil and self sacrifice, you might find it refreshing to see an old school action movie where Jews are good, Nazis are evil, and every problem is conveniently solved by a raid involving a lengthy gun battle. Even based on a true story crammed full of heroism and danger, Defiance falls flat and actually ends up cheapening those acts with tired action movie clichés and some of the worst dialogue since Steven Seagal’s last bomb.

Daniel Craig does the brooding hero well enough, but the script constantly trips him up. It’s all short dramatic utterances that sound like every other hammy action flick devoid of humour, which would be okay if they weren’t coming out of the mouths of supposedly simple people driven by desperation. It is impossible to view any of the characters as more than two dimensional cut outs – good guy, bad guy or civilian. Even the conflict between Tuvia and Zus comes across as little more than a pothole along their shared road to bittersweet glory.

On the up side, Defiance is shot beautifully, and the forest locations look amazing. The action scenes are exciting too and the pace is decent enough, although in a film that excels in shootouts and macho posturing, drawn out sequences of people starving just come across as tedious rather than conveying hardship.

If you want to see a Hollywood-lite version of WW2, then Defiance is for you. With the aforementioned films being so popular, I would have thought that the age of this sort of gung ho nonsense was past (with this sort of budget and cast at any rate). Approached with the right frame of mind Defiance could be enjoyable, but the non-stop clichés and stupid script ruin what could have been something special.

Braveheart meets Schindler’s List in a World War 2 drama starring Daniel Craig and a dodgy Russian accent.

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