Defiance‘s plot is simple: Three brothers lead a group of Jewish people out of rural Belarus and into the forest in order to save them from sure death by German Nazis. On paper, it has all the makings of a well-rounded, convincing film: It’s set during World War II, its protagonists are Jewish rebels struggling to survive and it includes the star power of Daniel Craig to push it forward. On film, however, Defiance falls flat.
Edward Zwick, the director and co-screenwriter, can’t figure out how to make viewers care about the characters‘ struggles. He tries close-up shots of Craig’s striking blue eyes but ends up with only vacuous beauty. He tries to buy our sympathy with brotherly love but instead creates mere caricatures of familial relationships. And that’s pretty much all we’re left with – caricatures. Zwick’s dialogue is forced and awkward and the cinematography is as drab as a made-for-TV movie.
The plot never violates any conventions either. It’s a little disappointing, too – one would think a movie that is so radical at its core, a movie about Jewish men killing Nazis, would buck Hollywood tradition here and there. Not so. Defiance is as predictable as a Walt Disney film in its conflicts and, even more unfortunately, its resolutions.
There are, however, a few notable sequences. Zwick, at one point, cleverly switches back and forth between shots of a traditional Jewish wedding and the Russian Army raiding a Nazi convoy. It’s convincing and proves to be an interesting parallel. Later in the film, the Jewish refugees capture a German soldier and beat him to death while claiming revenge for their murdered families. It’s melodramatic and plays out like one of those team-building sequences from a family film – the scene when everyone forgets their differences and joins the team. Except in this case, it’s a bunch of people viciously killing a Nazi. For some reason, it just doesn’t work. And neither does Defiance.
ZACK FREDERICK can be reached at email@example.com.