There's a scene in Defiance - the true story of a group of Jews who take refuge in the woods of Poland during World War II - where a Soviet army commander tells star Daniel Craig, "Jews don't fight." Craig, as one of the four Bielski brothers who form the woodland community, snaps back, "These Jews fight." And that's pretty much what Defiance comes down to: Jews with guns.
In 1941, after their families are killed by invading Nazis, the Bielskis - Craig as clearheaded Tuvia, Liev Schreiber as hotheaded Zus, Jamie Bell as the one who becomes a man in the woods and George MacKay as the little one who doesn't do much - hole up in a Belarus forest. They soon discover other Jews hiding there.
But Defiance isn't a meditative WWII piece. It's an action flick with revenge on its mind and an explosion-packed survival story disguised as a triumph of the spirit. After learning their parents were killed by local police working with the Nazis, Tuvia obtains a gun from a sympathetic neighbor. He then heads over to the police chief's house, and with the same steely fortitude Craig brings to James Bond, Tuvia gets his revenge - shooting the guy at the dinner table in front of his pleading wife. Despite Tuvia's act of Bondian retribution, it's Zus who turns into the movie's merciless, vengeful killer. "We must not become like them," says Tuvia of the Nazis outlining their homeland. "But at least we can kill like them," counters Zus, moments before he rounds up a group of armed Jews bent on revenge.
As hostility between Tuvia and Zus begins to simmer, Zus joins the Soviet army, where he discovers a more subtle, but every bit as pointed, form of anti-Semitism. Meanwhile, Tuvia becomes a mythical freedom fighter to the thousands of Jews he eventually shelters in the woods.
Defiance ultimately is a tale of two brothers taking separate paths toward survival and vengeance. "We cannot afford revenge," Tuvia tells Zus after the latter stages an attack on a Nazi caravan. "Our revenge is to live." Still, director Edward Zwick (Glory, Blood Diamond) makes sure that something blows up in between all that pensive talk among the underused actors.
At least he takes the time to point out that it's not just the Nazis who pose a threat to the forest-dwellers: Disease, starvation and a long, freezing winter are also formidable enemies.
But Defiance makes it all look so tidy and easy. This relatively small and untrained group of Jews seems to kill more Nazis during its time in the woods than all of France in the entire war. In the end, Tuvia and Zus learn something about brotherhood and their bond. We learn that if every Jew had a gun, Hitler wouldn't have stood a chance.
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