Defiance

Sabin
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Postby Sabin » Tue Nov 11, 2008 1:24 pm

Because I double-posted. Sorry.

If 'Defiance' is subpar compared to 'Blood Diamond', it. Is. Done.
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Postby Mister Tee » Tue Nov 11, 2008 1:06 pm

Screen Daily, letting us know it's not just Variety being cranky.

Defiance
Tim Grierson in Los Angeles
11 Nov 2008 07:00


Dir: Edward Zwick. US. 2008. 129 mins.

In trying to add a new chapter to the long history of films made about the Holocaust, Defiance can barely move a narrative muscle without bumping into another, better movie that covers some of the same ground. Based on the true story of three Eastern-European brothers who led a ragtag army of fellow Jews to fight back against the Nazis, this action-drama from director Edward Zwick (Blood Diamond, The Last Samurai) is weighed down by muted performances, an unsparingly solemn tone and an overall lack of creative spark.

Opening in limited release at the end of the year in the US before expanding in 2009, Defiance hopes to continue director Edward Zwick's track record of producing profitable, critically-acclaimed epics that entice mainstream audiences while garnering Oscar nominations for his cast. But without a strong marketing angle – and perhaps burdened by lukewarm reviews – this Paramount Vantage release may find itself buried amid the rush of Oscar-season contenders all jostling for attention. Defiance star Daniel Craig has marquee value thanks to his involvement in the James Bond franchise, but it's unknown whether he has the same box-office clout as previous Zwick leading men Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Cruise and Denzel Washington.

Set in 1941, Defiance is centred around three Jewish brothers who live in Belarus and are forced to flee the Nazis after the murder of their parents. Retreating to nearby forests, Zus (Schreiber) wants to strike back at the Germans, but his older brother Tuvia (Craig) doesn't want them to become barbarous like their enemies. Jamie Bell plays younger brother Aseal.

The disagreement between the two older brothers splits the family, with Tuvia deciding to build a community of displaced Jews in the woods, while hotheaded Zus joins the Russian partisan camps to wage war against the Nazis.

Adapting Nechama Tec's nonfiction book of the same name, producer-director-co-writer Zwick tries to rewrite the standard view of World War II movies in which Jews are always helpless, dramatising a real story about Jews who defended themselves and fought back. But while the source material offers a new way to look at this, Zwick hasn't figured out a compelling angle from which to view that story.

Zwick and co-writer Clayton Frohman have shaped their screenplay as a rather obvious battle of wills between the soft-spoken, pacifist Tuvia and the argumentative, hawkish Zus, but neither character develops much beyond being a symbol for his particular worldview. And with the film clearly favouring Tuvia's way of thinking, there's no tension to the brothers' feud since Zwick's tone makes it pretty obvious early on which character will be proven right.

Since Defiance views the two brothers as simply talking heads for different ideologies, Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber have a tough time with the material, not helped by the fact that Craig's naturally brooding magnetism clashes with the reserve of his indecisive character, while Schreiber is too cerebral a performer to portray a one-dimensional bear of a man who rarely thinks before acting.

The rest of the cast seems equally dispirited, falling into bland supporting-character archetypes within Tuvia's forest community, like the blindly supportive love interest (Davalos) or the wimpy intellectual (Feuerstein).

Zwick's films have a reputation for impressive spectacle that can overwhelm their earnest, slightly cornball narratives, but Defiance is so sober-minded that even its few action sequences fail to add much excitement to the proceedings. Obviously, the filmmaker wanted to keep the battle scenes from being too exhilarating, lest he undercut his message about the pitfalls of violence, but by resisting his instinctive ability to create rousing action, Zwick has made a film that aims for a thoughtful, mature tone but ends up feeling stolid.

In keeping with Defiance's aura of prestige and solemnity, cinematographer Eduardo Serra and costume designer Jenny Beavan drape the film in drab browns, grays and greens. Composer James Newton Howard's score hits all the predictable notes, especially when Tuvia steels himself to give an inspiring sermon to the troops, while Joshua Bell's stark violin solos somewhat overdo the gravitas during scenes of death and carnage.

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Postby flipp525 » Tue Nov 11, 2008 11:45 am

Why are there two threads about this movie? It barely deserves one.
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Postby Okri » Tue Nov 11, 2008 11:39 am

dws1982 wrote:Of course over at other message boards, everyone was predicting this for Picture/Director/Actor/Supporting Actor/Screenplay, and so on, not having learned their lesson from falling on their faces with every other previous Ed Zwick movie.

Heh. That's totally me. Blame Blood Diamond for getting a nomination for DiCaprio.

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Postby dws1982 » Tue Nov 11, 2008 11:24 am

Of course over at other message boards, everyone was predicting this for Picture/Director/Actor/Supporting Actor/Screenplay, and so on, not having learned their lesson from falling on their faces with every other previous Ed Zwick movie.

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Postby Mister Tee » Tue Nov 11, 2008 11:19 am

Ed Zwick makes mediocre movie. Didn't see that coming.

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Postby Sabin » Tue Nov 11, 2008 11:16 am

Todd McCarthy not happy, sez Zwick film is essentially Edward Zwick film.


A potentially exceptional story is told in a flatly unexceptional manner in “Defiance.” True-life yarn of a band of Jewish brothers who led a small but resilient resistance movement against the Nazis in Belorussia during World War II seems like such a natural for the bigscreen that it’s surprising it’s never cropped up before. But Edward Zwick’s version of the grim but inspirational events becomes more conventional as it goes, topped by a climax straight out of countless war pics and Westerns. Presence of Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber in tough macho guise will attract some action fans, and Holocaust-related theme will draw others, but overall commercial prospects appear modest.

By focusing on a handful of tough rural guys who, no matter the overwhelming odds, choose to take their chances living in a dense forest and hit the Germans when they can rather than go quietly, “Defiance” seems explicitly designed to counter the prevailing image of Jews acquiescing to their fates in ghettoes or camps without fighting back. Most of the time, such resistance was impossible, but the film, based on a 1993 book by historian Nechama Tec, turns the spotlight on an instance in which resourcefulness, tenacity and heroism resulted in 1,200 Jews emerging from the woods at war’s end.

Zwick has examined little-known historical incidents before, notably in “Glory,” and “Defiance” has the advantage of centering upon three brothers, the Bielskis: Tuvia (Craig), a smuggler who returns after the Nazis have rampaged through their area in August 1941, killing family members along with many others; Zus (Schreiber), the so-called “wild one”; and the considerably younger Asael (Jamie Bell), whose tender sensibilities toughen up in a hurry.

Tuvia undergoes his baptism of blood by killing the local police chief who murdered his father, but then renounces further revenge missions, having decided that “our revenge is to live.” However, Zus wants to eliminate local collaborators, and their guerrilla tactics enable them to take out some Nazis as well, scooping up additional arms in the process.

Others find their way to the brothers’ remote camp, which soon resembles a community, complete with religious figures, a bespectacled “intellectual,” love interests for the brothers and, most crucially, more fighters. The group’s numbers are further swollen after Tuvia and Asael visit a nearby urban Jewish ghetto and spirit out many volunteers.

But the restless Zus, dubious about Tuvia’s ability to capably head the group and anxious for direct action, splits with his brother and joins a group of partisans operating nearby under the Red Army banner. Forced to move after having been discovered by the Germans, Tuvia’s group builds a new hidden village, while Tuvia, who’s not exactly a born leader, tries to inspire his people with a sense of purpose -- “to live free, like human beings, for as long as we can” -- and prepare for the winter.

Through roughly the first half, viewer goodwill and interest are piqued by the story’s basic circumstances, the promise that at least some of these characters will find a way to prevail, Craig and Schreiber’s rugged appeal, and the muted beauty of Eduardo Serra’s blue-, green- and gray-infused location cinematography in the forests of Lithuania.

But through the remaining hour-plus of the script by Clayton Frohman and Zwick -- as malnourishment and illness hit the community, romances blossom, Zus wrestles with whether to stick with the Russians or return to the fold, and Tuvia, faced with aerial bombing and approaching Nazi troops, must lead his people, like Moses, across water to safety -- it all becomes pretty standard-issue stuff, filled with noble and tragic heroism, familiar battle images and last-second rescues. None of the suffering, sacrifices, anxieties or tests of heart and soul are rendered with any special dimension or heightened force, nor depicted with anything near the staggering, hallucinatory impact of the two great Russian films to have depicted events in wartime Belorussia, Larisa Shepitko’s 1977 “The Ascent” and her husband Elem Klimov’s 1985 “Come and See.”

Zwick has made the debatable decision to have all the actors deliver their dialogue in English with a roughly Slavic-cum-Russian accent, then speak (subtitled) Russian when the occasion demands it. Given the odd disorientation this provokes, one wonders if the accents were worth the trouble.

His brilliant blue eyes emphasized to make them positively glow at times, Craig acquits himself manfully as a flawed, limited fellow struggling to find leadership qualities within himself. But to really pay off, the part should have been provided with more explicit subtext; if Tuvia really was a criminal before the war, his past could have been brought to bear more meaningfully on his new role in life. Were he and his brothers the local equivalent of hillbilly rubes, as might be surmised from the attitudes of the more learned members of their flock? If so, some helpful humor might have ensued. And how deeply and far back did the animosity between Tuvia and Zus run? Many details and useful distinctions that would have helped individualize and define the main characters are glossed over.

Schreiber’s fierceness and sheer physicality have rarely been so amply emphasized, and they allow him to dominate whenever he’s onscreen. Bell effectively etches Asael’s quickly earned maturity; Alexa Davalos, Iben Hjejle and Mia Wasikowska all have their warm moments as women who attach themselves to Tuvia, Zus and Asael, respectively; and Ravil Isyanov, as the People’s Army leader, and Martin Hancock, as an ill-mannered lout, stand out among the large supporting cast.

Production’s physical details are well managed, and James Newton Howard’s violin-dominated score provides mournfully moody dramatic backing.
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver


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