will always be associated with the James Bond film franchise
having tackled the lead role in two highly successful Bond movies (with a few more on the horizon). Craig's superb as the super-spy and boy can he handle action scenes. But Craig's not just Bond. He's taken on a diverse collection of film roles over the past 15 years, delivering outstanding performances as a killer in Infamous
, a member of the Israeli team assembled after the massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich
, and a business man never referred to by name whose plans for retirement from the drug trade are put on hold in Layer Cake
Craig adds yet another exceptional performance to his resume with his starring role in the dramatic thriller, Defiance
, set in 1941. Directed by Edward Zwick (Glory
, Blood Diamond
) and adapted for the screen by Zwick and Clay Frohman from the non-fiction book by Nechama Tec, Defiance
tells the true story of three brothers - Tuvia, Zus and Asael Bielski - who beat incredible odds and ultimately kept thousands of Jews safe from being murdered by the Nazis and their supporters.
Defiance is an absolutely heartbreaking and heroic tale, and one that hadn't seen the light of day on the big screen prior to this film. The real Bielski brothers never sought fame or recognition for their bravery and so this is one true story that will be new to most moviegoers. And it's definitely one that deserves to be shared with a worldwide audience as the Bielskis accomplished the near-impossible and saved untold lives.
Tuvia (Craig), Zus (Liev Schreiber
), and Asael Bielski (Jamie Bell) escaped into the forest surrounding their family's home in Stankevich (now Belarus) after discovering Nazi collaborators had murdered their parents. Farmers by trade, the brothers were capable, resourceful men able to live off the land. But the Bielskis didn't just want to hide out and try to survive the massacre of their fellow Jewish citizens. The brothers wanted to avenge the deaths of their family and friends and did so by saving men, women, children, and the elderly from falling into the hands of the Nazis and their supporters.
Jamie Bell and Liev Schreiber in 'Defiance.'© Paramount Vantage
At the urging (basically under the direct order of) Tuvia, the oldest brother, anyone seeking food and shelter was accepted into the Bielskis' shelter in the forest. Zus initially wasn't a supporter of Tuvia's plan to take in all refugees, believing they would weaken the group's chances at survival. But Tuvia prevailed and the gathering grew into a society of 1,000+ people, all tasked with working to help the group survive. Temporary housing was built, booby traps were set out to protect the camp, and those capable of handling a gun patrolled the settlement's perimeter. The refugees survived by dealing with farmers and other merchants sympathetic to their situation as well as stealing resources meant for the army.
Tuvia, the group's leader, did whatever was necessary to keep order in this makeshift community. He had strict rules everyone in the community had to adhere to and punishment for disobeying could be brutal. But whatever Tuvia did, he did for the good of this group which became known as the Bielski otriad. Thousands who would have perished in the Holocaust lived as the direct result of his actions.
Surprisingly, the fact Craig, Schreiber, and Bell in no way resemble brothers doesn't distract from the film. Craig and Schreiber play tough as nails men who butt heads but also obviously love and respect each other. Jamie Bell is slight in build and seems slightly out of place, but his presence is strong enough to carry off the part of the younger brother who finds love in this makeshift community.
and Allan Corduner deliver fine performances as intellectuals whose appearances in scenes allow the audience to take a step back from the action and brutality, and to see the situation through the eyes of men who put everything into perspective. And Alexa Davalos, Iben Hjejle, and Mia Wasikowska are each terrific in the film's key female roles.
The Bottom Line
I haven't read Nechama Tec's book, Defiance: The Bielski Partisans
, and so I can't say with any certainty how closely Zwick and Frohman stuck to the source material. As with most films based on books, artistic license was probably taken to make the story flow cinematically. In interviews, Craig and Schreiber said in actuality there was much more brutality and killing than is portrayed in the film. And I have to believe Zwick and Frohman added in more romance than Tec's book revealed. But the basic story is supposedly much the same as how it played out back in 1941.
Liev Schreiber and Daniel Craig in 'Defiance.'© Paramount Vantage
It's incredible to me that I knew nothing about this story after all these years and all these tales of heroics by Germans keeping Jewish citizens safe (such as recounted in Schindler's List
). Filmed in the forest outside of Vilnius, Lithuania instead of on a soundstage to add as much realism as possible to this retelling of the Bielskis' story, Defiance
is a compelling human drama of revenge, honor, hope, and survival. It's also an engaging action film, although the action never overwhelms the story. Craig, Schreiber and Bell give performances that remind us this is above all the story of men making a stand during one of the bleakest moments in history.
Defiance was directed by Edward Zwick and is rated R for violence and language.
Theatrical Release: January 16, 2009