Blu-ray Review
by Kevin Carr

    MOVIE: **** (out of 5 stars)
    BLURAY EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5 stars)

    Daniel Craig as TUVIA BIELSKI
    Liev Schreiber as ZUS BIELSKI
    Jamie Bell as ASAEL BIELSKI
    Alexa Davalos as LILKA TICKTIN
    George MacKay as ARON BIELSKI

    Rated R
    Studio: Paramount Vantage

    Directed by: Edward Zwick

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During World War II, while the Nazis were moving through Easter Europe, three brothers in Belarus see their families and countryside overrun. Instead of giving up, the Bielski brothers took to the woods to hide from the Nazis, and to fight back. Along with them, they take hundreds of refugees, protect them from the encroaching fascist army and teach them to defend themselves.

This past Christmas, there was a wash of World War II movies, and this was a bit unfortunate for “Defiance.” I feel that this film got lost in the shuffle of lesser movies like “Valkyrie,” although that was also generally well made.

“Defiance” tells a story that has not been told that much. While history buffs will remember the story of the Bielski brothers, and their story has not been lost to the tens of thousands of descendants of those who were saved, it has not been seen by widespread audiences. Like other grim but uplifting World War II movies, like “The Great Raid,” it’s good to see the story be given proper treatment.

Director Edward Zwick does a fine job presenting the challenges of reality without falling into nostalgia or easy Hollywood heroes. Tuvia and Zus Bielski (Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber) are not easy heroes, nor do they always make the perfect decisions. There are many hard times that face the group as they live in the frozen woods, often involving difficult and unsavory choices. Zwick does not apologize for these choices, but rather presents them in such a way that they were necessary for the survival of the group.

I can’t say this film shows an accurate portrayal of living in the woods while on the run from soldiers wanting to kill you – mainly because I’ve never been in such a situation – but I can say that it seemed as authentic as my imagination would allow.

The biggest problems I had with this film are from its authenticity and realism, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Unlike other World War II dramas like “Valkyrie” or “Enemy at the Gates” from a few years back, the actor took painstaking care to learn the accents of their characters. This served the realism of the film greatly, although it did make things hard to understand at times. Fortunately, there are subtitles to the Blu-ray and DVD, which help out a lot.

Additionally, the film does show the less perfect side of heroes, and some of the footage is hard to watch because it does not come across as a black-and-white morality play. Again, this isn’t necessarily bad for the film, and it does serve the movie’s purpose.

The Blu-ray comes with a feature-length commentary by Edward Zwick, who actually comes to the table prepared to talk about the film rather than ramble on for hours on end.

There are three featurettes about the making of the film, which are all presented in high definition on the Blu-ray. “Defiance: Return to the Forest” provides a general making-of history and documentation of the film. “Scoring Defiance” shows how James Newton Howard developed the soundtrack while violin legend Joshua Bell was a featured soloist.

“Children of the Otriad: The Families Speak” is perhaps the most interesting featurette, spotlighting the descendants of the Bielski brothers and presenting their real-life story against the backdrop of a Hollywood feature. Going hand-in-hand with this is “Bielski Partisan Survivors,” a photographic montage of the remaining survivors from the original World War II refugees.

World War II movie fans and people looking for a lesser-known true story of heroes.

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