Paramount // 2008 // 136 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // June 12th, 2009
Freedom begins with an act of defiance.
That's right kids, it's time for another Incredible True Story from World War II. This one is the tale of the Bielski brothers and their band of Jewish refugee freedom fighters who lived in the forest and shot Nazis in their stupid faces.
Tuvia Bielski (Daniel Craig, Quantum of Solace) is the leader of this ragtag militia, comprised entirely of Jews on the run from the Final Solution. He's formed a tenuous partnership with Zus (Liv Schreiber, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), his hot-headed younger brother who's got a hard-on for smoking Nazis, no matter how much it threatens the stability of the Jewish Forest Commune. The Nazis are closing in on Tuvia's collective, forcing the cold, starved, and irritable residents to take up their guns and unload some ammunition.
On paper Defiance sounds pretty badass. Daniel Craig leading a bunch of pissed-off Jews into the forest to repel the marching hordes of scumbag Nazis? Perhaps using makeshift booby-traps like spike pits and those logs tied to ropes that the Ewoks dropped on the AT-STs? Sign me up!
Alas, history didn't allow director Ed Zwick to indulge his creativity in drumming up awesome ways to kill fascists with tree trunks. Defiance is indeed an Incredible True Story, but it's not much of an action saga and the drama never quite lands the way it's intended. The whole affair just comes across as flat, and the bloated runtime does nothing to help things along. I like the substance of the film -- these folks desperately trying to survive in the woods with Nazis zeroing in on them is primo stuff -- but Zwick just wasn't able to make Defiance sing.
Not that the actors didn't give it their all. Daniel Craig is a terrific, Alpha Male kickass when he needs to be, but he can also handle the demands of the tortured leader. Tuvia is forced to do some pretty shocking things, to maintain order within the fragile community, and Craig deals with the emotional fallout of these decisions like the tortured soul he is. Schreiber has more fun as the blood-drunk soldier and Jamie Bell (Jumper)does, well, not much...but he does it well.
Perhaps if there had been a heftier helping of action, Defiance would have had more gusto. As it is, save for a few scenes where there's actual defiance going down, the bulk of the film is concerned with the logistical considerations of managing a quasi-Marxist collective in the forest during winter. The brief firefight at the end is too little too late, and not that exciting anyway.
While the film is a missed opportunity, the Blu-ray isn't. The 1.85:1 high-def widescreen transfer looks great, rendering the extensive, multi-season forest scenes with startling clarity. Colors are sharp throughout and the boosted resolution lends a noticeable bump in visual fidelity; overall it's a top-tier video treatment. The Dolby TrueHD audio mix is a treat during the (admittedly few) action scenes, creating an aggressive, enveloping aural experience. A nice set of features accompany, including a commentary by Zwick, and HD featurettes looking at the making of and set design, the true history behind the survivors, the score, and a classy slideshow of the refugees.
The movie's lukewarm, but the Blu-ray is a keeper, sporting strong technical merits and a fine selection of bonus features.
Tedious in the First Degree.
Review content copyright © 2009 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 136 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R