Posted: 05/31/2009



by Del Harvey

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Defiance tells the story of four brothers who hid out in the forests of Bellarussia when the Nazi army began weeding out the Jews from the Russian peoples. The Bielski brothers eventually found themselves the unexpected leaders of a rebellion against the Nazis in their home country.

The story is based upon a real family and real events, and it is extraordinary for that fact alone; but Zwick is also careful not to belittle any of these brave survivors. He tells a story about a people who were singled out and targeted for extermination, up against incredible odds, a well organized and supplied army, and one that had the power of might on their side.

But under the guidance of these Russian Jewish brothers, hundreds - and eventually thousands - would escape the systematic Nazi extermination of their people by going into hiding in the woods. As more and more refugees found them and followed their lead, a community sprang up in the forest, as well as a concept only the desperation of war could bring about, taking “forest wives.”

As the competitive older brothers, Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber soon come to blows over power - one becomes envious of the other’s born and natural leadership. One leaves to join the local Russian fighters, but soon finds prejudice within their ranks and feels as though he is right back where he started, even though he is fighting.

Director Edward Zwick has made his share of decent films, including Glory, Leaving Normal, Blood Diamonds, Courage Under Fire, and The Siege. He has also made a few questionable films, including The Last Samurai and Legends Of The Fall. Count Defiance among the former.

The film has been adapted from the book Defiance: The Bielski Partisans, and there are, naturally, some differences between what is presented in the book and what is shown on screen. But adaptation for the visual medium means there will inevitably be some discrepancies between truth and the demands of the movie-going audience. But none of that really matters; the film presented here is a quality attempt to deliver a story which is stunning. You will root for these people and hope they survive the terrible injustices heaped upon them by the invading armies.

The DEFIANCE DVD and Blu-ray presentations include commentary by director Edward Zwick, an in-depth look at the making of the film called “Defiance: Return to the Forest”, interviews with the real-life descendants of the Bielski family and photographs taken by the director during the production. Additionally, the Blu-ray includes “Scoring Defiance”, a discussion with composer James Newton Howard and violinist Joshua Bell about the much-lauded score.

The DEFIANCE DVD is presented in widescreen enhanced for 16:9 TVs with Dolby Digital English 5.1 Surround, French 5.1 Surround and Spanish 5.1 Surround and English, French and Spanish subtitles. The Blu-ray disc is presented in 1080p high definition with English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, French 5.1 Dolby Digital and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital and English, English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles. The discs include the following special features in high definition as noted:

• Commentary by director Edward Zwick
• Defiance: Return to the Forest (HD)—Explores all aspects of production from the early stages of pre-production to shooting on location in Lithuania. Edward Zwick and his creative team discuss some of the challenges and also the rewards of adapting this well-documented historical event into a feature film.
• Bielski Partisan Survivors (HD)—Photo gallery of images taken by Edward Zwick including behind-the-scenes images and surviving members from the Bielski Otriad.
• Children of the Otriad: The Families Speak (HD)—Descendents of the Bielski family tour the film’s set and relate the story of the real-life partisans along with efforts to preserve the brothers’ legacy.
• Scoring Defiance (HD) —Blu-ray only —Academy Award® nominated composer James Newton Howard and violinist Joshua Bell discuss the incredible film score for Defiance.
• Theatrical trailers (HD)

Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a film teacher, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.

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