Defiance

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Daniel Craig: Same Pose in Every Movie

Defiance

Starring: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber

By Robert Patrick

The incessant rattling of a machinegun, now quiet for a brief moment of requiem, pours smoke from its heated barrel. Does the gun comprehend what it’s shooting at? We assume not; the weapon, after all, is cold and without means of comprehension. Director Edward Zwick’s film, Defiance, feels much the same; there are a lot of bullets whipping through leafs, tearing through the bark of trees, threading through people – but the film doesn’t understand what it’s aiming for in the process. I don’t think there is one second where, for even the slightest of moments, the filmmakers have a sense of understanding over the source material.

The film, based on the true story of three Jewish brothers who stealthily evade Nazi forces in Poland, should be a memorandum filled with hope and honor; friendship and family. But, instead of conducting a thoughtful commentary on wartime resourcefulness and the bonds of humanity, we get a brainless action film that’s rife with pockets of ceaseless gunfire and trite dialogue.

The story, from what I grasp from the epilogue of the movie, is a filmic epitaph to these brothers whom, under the boot of unyielding evil, attempt to help find solace in war torn Europe for themselves. Strange, I never felt that Zwick portrayed these brothers – who deserve a better film than this – to be anything more than types and not people.
The film picks up when the three brothers, still out of breath from their long exodus from Poland, reunite in the thick, unforgiving Belarussian forest. Tuvia (Daniel Craig), the oldest Bielski siblings, takes on the role of leader, while the two other brothers, Zus (Liev Schreiber) and Asael (Jamie Bell), follow his steely lead. Eventually the family, attempting to save more of their people, build a makeshift town within the blackened terrain of the woods. As the Bielski’s escort more Jews into their splintered safe-haven of lumber and rock, they break into warring factions, caused mostly by lack of nourishment and bad scriptwriting.

Because Zus is fed up with his older brother’s inanimate reactions towards the Nazi regime, he decides that, against his family’s wishes, he will join up with a small troop of Russian resistance fighters. This, of course, undermines the stability of the everyone’s emotions, causing a rift in the camp.

In grandiose Zwick fashion – the director has helmed such epic action films as Glory, Blood Diamond, The Last Samurai – firefights are not omitted. Throughout Zwick’s blood soaked piece of celluloid you’ll be witness to weapons recoiling; bodies jarring backwards; and puffs of pink mist from entrance wounds. Accommodating the chaotic cavalcade of battle sequences is a overproduced, albeit underwhelming, score by James Newton Howard – the same fellow who composed the much better Dark Knight. The problem with all of the action sequences is that they behave in a emotionally pedestrian manner; the director films them as if he is going through the motions, filming them as if he needs to fill a quota, not as if he is accurately representing history. If evil has a face, it certainly doesn’t in Defiance; every Nazi that is shot tumbles over like a bottle in a shooting gallery. The most offensive thing in this film, far superseding the shoddy pacing or dialogue, stems from the lack of emotional understanding. Everything is so basic, so tactile in Defiance that it loses its most important subject: what are the repercussions of bending one’s own moral fabric during times of war and loss? In representing men who overcame such volatile hatred and oppression, Zwick and company seem lost playing dress-up. Sorry as I am to say it, the filmmakers who created this picture act as if this isn’t a prevalent story, but instead an opportunity to blow-up stuff real good.

In conclusion, if you want to understand world war 2, you had better go elsewhere. I don’t think that Defiance’s screenwriter, Clayton Frohman, realized what an ambitious subject he had in his hands. Frohman, after all, hadn’t written a script in the last 19 years – I’m not sure he should’ve began scraping off the rust with a story that required so much of someone.

2/5

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Author: Rob Patrick

A member of the San Diego Film Critics Society, Rob created Cinema Spartan after he stepped down as the editor of a weekly. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. He has also introduced films with the Pacific Arts Movement. He co-owns two dire wolves, Buckley and Ruffin. At any given time, he can tell you superfluous hockey statistics. He is the chancellor of Tapatio, an advocate of iced tea, and an owner of at least 70 pairs of Vans.

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