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With: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell, Alexa Davalos, Allan Corduner, Mark Feuerstein, Tomas Arana, Jodhi May, Kate Fahy, Iddo Goldberg, Iben Hjejle, Martin Hancock, Ravil Isyanov, Jacek Koman, George MacKay, Jonjo O'Neill, Sam Spruell, Mia Wasikowska
Written by: Clayton Frohman, Edward Zwick, based on a book by Nechama Tec
Directed by: Edward Zwick
MPAA Rating: R for violence and language
Running Time: 137
Date: 12/31/2008

Defiance (2008)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Botcher in the Woods

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Here's a perfect example of a filmmaker covering up his incompetence by filming an important and emotionally overwhelming story, just as Stefan Ruzowitzky did earlier this year with The Counterfeiters. Edward Zwick has made a career out of making such prestigious pageants, mostly tales of other cultures as told through the eyes of a white, male hero: Glory (1989), The Last Samurai (2003) and Blood Diamond (2006). But at least those films looked halfway decent. The new Defiance is so technically and artistically bad that it's already deserving of ridicule from the MST3K team. Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell star as three brothers of Russian-Jewish heritage (who speak heavy-accented English). When WWII and Nazi threats loom, they escape into the woods; before long they have built up a community of refugees, training, building shelters and going on food raids. Eventually the two older brothers, Tuvia (Craig) and Zus (Schreiber) quarrel, and the hotheaded Zus leaves for the more secure company and more immediate violence of the nearby Russian army. There are many daring battles and a few scenes of high drama as the outcasts try to survive a frigid Russian winter. But Zwick bungles everything. The lead actors have no shape to their performances; their characters fluctuate all over the map, unaided by their dreadful dialogue. The lesser characters are more like glorified extras, each trying to contribute their own bits of business to get their faces on camera, but none ever coming to life. Very often, characters talk about other characters by name, as if we know any of these people well enough to know what their names are. Zwick's weighty pacing moves forward in a monotone hum with no sense of highs or lows. And he fails to use the essence of the woods for any kind of mood; it's merely a series of backdrops for him. And so it goes, with one misstep after another. The question is whether or not Zwick has honored his subjects by bringing their story to the public eye, or has dishonored them by doing it so poorly. (See Steven Spielberg's Munich for a much better example of heroic Jews under pressure.)

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