Monday, January 26, 2009


This is kind of a Saving Private Ryan/Schlinder's List in the Russian countryside. The action involves maintaining a community of Jewish ghetto refugees in a deep forest amid the constant threat of discovery by the German army. Two Russian Jewish brothers, played with exquisite machismo by Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber, create an ad hoc civilization borne of a loyal necessity. While the brothers have their unique sibling backstory rich with unarticulated resentment and competitiveness, they forge a working solution to their personal history: one brother stays with the community and the other brother signs on with the insurgent Russian army to protect the borders of the forest.

There's no sentimental brother love at work here. Both men begrudge each other's leadership attempts, yet their separate paths allow each to take equally important roles in the community's survival. The brother who stays with the refugees learns how a society, even one in peril, has archetypes that need expression. At the same time, the soldier brother lives and fights in an army alongside comrades whose history included pogroms of hatred against Jews. With a subtle irony, the film traverses both brothers' experiences, underscoring how courage in war evolves within an individual's particular set of circumstances.

All high-mindedness aside, this is a slow-moving film that pretty much leans on Craig and Schreiber to deliver the bulk of its power. They do. With a few highlighted actors, notably a younger brother played by Jamie Bell, Defiance doesn't achieve the epic quality it seems to be striving toward. Still, it's an interesting story and should definitely be seen by any lover of movies about defying the hell-on-earth wrought by World War II Nazi power.

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