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Defiance

Defiance

Released: December 31, 2008

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Defiance>

Defiance
Sony Classical (88697-38523-2)

Released: December 9, 2008

Format: CD (49 min)

Movie Review: Defiance (Blu-ray)

by Dan Goldwasser
on June 1st, 2009
[3 / 5] printable

Directed by Edward Zwick, Defiance tells the World War II tale of three Jewish brothers who hide from the Nazis by living in the woods, and in alliance with Soviet partisans, perform raids while trying to survive.  The Bielski brothers - Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Liev Schreiber) and Asael (Jamie Bell) - hide in the forest when their parents and neighbors are slaughtered by the Nazis.  Soon they have a small gathering of other refugees, and start to build a camp.  Taking the leadership role naturally, Tuvia manages to get a weapon from a supportive villager, and in an act of revenge, kills the local official who has been turning in Jews to the Nazis.  When a conflict ensues between Tuvia and Zus over how aggressive they need to be against the Germans (Tuvia would rather take a defensive role, and Zus wants to go out and kill proactively), Zus leaves the camp - which has grown substantially - to join the Soviet partisans who are also in the woods.  As the refugees deal with the onset of winter (and typhus), Tuvia faces a challenge to his leadership, and Asael works to win the heart of one of the ladies in the camp.

We're never really given a chance to know the brothers in their "normal" lives, so we can't truly understand how the sudden displacement changed their characters and temperaments.  It's an interesting movie that tells a little-known story of survival and heroism during World War II, and one can certainly appreciate the amazing struggle these Jews endured as they survived in the woods, and built a community under the radar of the Nazis, who were hunting for them.

Now coming to home video, Defiance sports an excellent transfer on Blu-ray.  The film was shot with a slight desaturated look to it, with cooler colors dominating outdoor scenes, befitting of the drab cold eastern European locale.  Indoors the warmth permeates the screen, and slight film grain gives it a very natural look.  Detail is sharp and very photographic - it's quite the presentation.  Audio is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, as well as French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1.  The audio is pretty immersive, with the woods coming to life from all speakers. The dialogue is clear and the action sequences thunder through the room, with great low-end.  James Newton Howard's Oscar-nominated score sounds crisp and well presented.  It's not a reference-quality film, but it sure sounds good!

The extras for Defiance are a bit on the slim side.  The highlight is the always-informative commentary track by director Edward Zwick. Coming across as a little more academic than off-the-cuff, the commentary provides a wealth of information on the film, from the historical aspects, to the actors, production challenges, locations, and much more.  It's a nice supplement to the only making-of featurette, "Defiance: Return to the Forest" (HD, 26-min). Using behind-the-scenes footage, interviews and film footage, we take a pretty satisfactory look at the making of Defiance, although some of the topics are already touched upon in the commentary track.

"Children of the Otriad" (HD, 13.5-min) is a short but powerful piece with the descendants of the Bielsky brothers talk about the true story that the film is based on.  "Scoring Defiance" (HD, 7-min) is a nice look at the James Newton Howard's Oscar-nominated score, with plenty of scoring session footage as well as the use of Joshua Bell's solo violin work.  "Bielski Partisan Survivors" (HD, 2-min) is a short set of photos that Zwick shot of some of the real-life survivors (quite striking, these photos could be in a gallery!).  Finally, two "Theatrical Trailers" (HD, 4.5-min) are included.

Defiance is a flawed but interesting and well done historical drama that shows a little-known side of World War II.  It has an excellent video and audio presentation, and a great commentary track, but the slightly anemic extras leave one feeling like the surface was just scratched on the history and production of the film. But it's still a nice package and well worth at least renting.

Movie Review: Defiance

by Dan Goldwasser
on December 1st, 2008
[3 / 5] printable

Defiance tells the World War II tale of three Jewish brothers who hide from the Nazis by living in the woods, and in alliance with Soviet partisans, perform raids while trying to survive.  The Bielski brothers - Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Liev Schreiber) and Asael (Jamie Bell) - hide in the forest when their parents and neighbors are slaughtered by the Nazis.  Soon they have a small gathering of other refugees, and start to build a camp.  Taking the leadership role naturally, Tuvia manages to get a weapon from a supportive villager, and in an act of revenge, kills the local official who has been turning in Jews to the Nazis.  When a conflict ensues between Tuvia and Zus over how aggressive they need to be against the Germans (Tuvia would rather take a defensive role, and Zus wants to go out and kill proactively), Zus leaves the camp - which has grown substantially - to join the Soviet partisans who are also in the woods.  As the refugees deal with the onset of winter (and typhus), Tuvia faces a challenge to his leadership, and Asael works to win the heart of one of the ladies in the camp.

Directed by Edward Zwick, Defiance tells the story in an interesting way, and overall it's a pretty well done film.  The problem is that the story starts out with the Nazi raid on the village, so we never get a chance to know the brothers in their "normal" lives, to see how the sudden displacement changed their characters and temperments. All of the actors are speaking with an eastern European accent, and it gets a little confusing as to who is who - the names don't quite stick to the characters (especially with the numerous supporting roles).  Still, the challenges they faced in the woods are effectively portrayed, and one can certainly appreciate the amazing stuggle they endured as they survived in the woods, and built a community under the radar of the Nazis, who were hunting for them.

The acting is overall fine, but nothing great - there are a few forced moments that were a little hammy, but it's not a dealbreaker.  The music, composed by James Newton Howard, is like The Village II: The Shtetl.  Using acclaimed violinist Joshua Bell, the music has a strong eastern European Jewish edge to it, and works fine in the film, never feeling over-the-top or too schmaltzy. Defiance is an interesting movie that tells a little-known story of survival and heroism during World War II.  It's worth checking out, but there are better WWII films out there; this one might be better served on home video.



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