DEFIANCE (A J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
May 25, 2009 by Dennis Amith
“A powerful film that educates us about a family of brothers who gave 1,200 Jewish people the will to survive against all odds. Despite the Hollywood treatment based on a true story, I was absolute captivated by the story but most of all in awe with the picture and audio quality on Blu-ray! ‘DEFIANCE’ is highly recommended!”
DURATION: 136 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles – English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese
RATED: R (For Violence and Language)
COMPANY: Paramount Vantage/Paramount Home Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: June 2, 2009
Directed by Edward Zwick
Based on the novel “Defiance: The Bielski Partisans” by Nechama Tec
Screenplay by Clayton Frohman and Edward Zwick
Produced by Alex Boden, Pieter Jan Brugge, Edward Zwick
Co-Executive Producer: Roland Tec
Associated Produced by Alisa Katz
Music by James Newton Howard
Director of Photography: Eduardo Serra
Edited by Steven Rosenblum
Casting by Gail Stevens, Arturas Zukauskas
Production Design by Dan Weil
Art Direction by Yann Biquand, Daran Fulham
Set Decoration by Veronique Melery
Costume Design by Jenny Beavan
Daniel Craig as Tuvia Bielski
Liev Schreiber as Zus Bielski
Jamie Bell as Asael Bielski
Alexa Davalos as Lilka Ticktin
George MacKay as Aron Bielski
Mia Wasikowlska as Chaya Dziencielsky
Allan Corduner as Shamon Haretz
Mark Feuerstein as Isaac Malbin
Tomas Arana as Ben Zion Gulkowitz
Jodhi May as Tamara Skidelsky
Kate Fahy as Riva Reich
Iddo Goldberg as Yitzchak Shulman
Iben Hjejle as Bella
Daniel Craig (James Bond: Quantum of Solace) stars as Tuvia Bielski, an ordinary citizen turned hero, in this action-packed epic of family, honor, vengeance and salvation. Defiance is a riveting adventure that showcases the extraordinary true story of the Bielski brothers, simple farmers –outnumbered and outgunned- who turned a group of war refugees into powerful freedom fighters. Tuvia, along with his unyielding brother, Zus (Liev Schreiber, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), motivate hundreds of civilians to join their ranks against the Nazi regime. Their “Inspirational story”* is a true testament to the human spirit. *David Densby, The New Yorker
In 2008, director Edward Zwick (“I Am Sam”, “Blood Diamond”, “My So-Called Life”) and screenwriter Clayton Frohman adapted Holocaust scholar, Nechama Tec’s book “Defiance: The Bielski Partisans”. The film would feature music by well known composer and orchestrator James Newton Howard (“ER”, “The Dark Knight”, “Pretty Woman” and “The Sixth Sense”) and cinematography by Eduardo Serra (“Blood Diamond”, “Unbreakable” and “What Dreams May Come”).
The film would star Daniel Craig ( “Quantum of Solace”, “Casino Royale” and “Layer Cake”), Liev Schreiber (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, “The Sum of All Fears” and “A Walk on the Moon”), Jamie Bell (“Jumper”, “Flags of Our Fathers”, “King Kong”) and Alexa Davalos (“The Chronicles of Riddick”, “The Mist” and “Angel”).
“DEFIANCE” is a film which takes place during the Nazi occupation through Eastern Europe and Jews were targeted and murdered. The film is based on a true story that revolves around the Bielski brothers who helped give refuge to around 1,200 Jews and help them evade the Germans while being hunted. The brothers and the Jews which started with only a handful of people grew to over a thousand while they stayed in the Forest under harsh conditions (while being hunted) with their primary goal was to survive.
The Bielski brothers which consist of Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Liev Schreiber), Asael (Jamie Bell) and Aron (George MacKay) are mourning the murder of their parents who were killed by the local police following orders from the Nazi Germans.
The brothers escape to the forest in order to survive and vow to avenge their parents deaths. Along the way, Aron discovers a family which older brother Tuvia takes in to their group. Zus is totally against this and feels that the older people will slow them down. The two gain some help from a local farmer, a family friend of the Bielski’s father and get food and bullets in order for Tuvia to get his revenge against the local police who murdered his parents.
After getting their revenge, the group begins to grow as more and more Jewish families who escaped persecution and escaped to the forest align themselves with the Bielski’s. Meanwhile, the Bielski’s find the Russian military not far from their camp and Tuvia who has gained a reputation for raiding farms and stealing supplies makes an agreement between the Bielski Otriad and the Russian military that the Soviet Partisans will protect the Otriad in exchange for supplies.
So, everyone has a job and duties in their camp and must obey rules set down by Tuvia. Everyone has jobs such as preparing vegetables and cooking for the camp, there are people who sew clothes, those who teach the children, men and women who train in their shooting skills and more.
From what started with a group of four, has slowly grown to dozens and immediately, Tuvia and his brother Zus have a differing opinions of how they should handle their lives. Tuvia believes that the Jews should live and not be treated like animals and to continue to fight for survival and thus they form an otriad (a partisan detachment).
While Zus feels that by staying in the forest is leaving everyone open to their own deaths and he would rather die by fighting the German now than being hunted. Tuvia and Asael continue to work in bringing more Jews to join and seek refuge with them in the forest while Zus and a few Jews leave the Bielski Otriad to join the Russians to fight the Germans.
Throughout the film, we see how the Bielski Partisans started to grown their camp dramatically and growing concerts of how or where they can get their food, how they can prepare everyone from the Winter and how they can help people who may have caught typhus. Everyone lived through terrible conditions in the forest especially during the Winter, not eating for days and living through food with water and potatoes. Squabbles for those who felt they fought should get more food and those who started to question their own leader because conditions were becoming worse.
Everyone’s at their wits end and moral is low as there is no food and people are getting sick. Tuvia and Asael must do what they can to keep morale strong and have people want to live. As for Zus, fighting alongside with the Russians is not going as smoothly as the Russians are prejudiced against the Jews and treat them as lower people. But most of all, constantly being in his brother’s shadow and that he is a Bielski, but he is his own person.
How much longer can the Bielski Partisans survive in the forest and what will they do when the Germans decide to go after them?
VIDEO & AUDIO:
“DEFIANCE” features awesome picture quality. The closeups on Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber show the pores and the grit while in the forest. Because the film was shot during the seasons, outdoor sunshine shots are vibrant in colors with the blue skies, green lush vegetation, while in the Winter, we are treated with blues and whites of despair. You will see plenty of detail due to the 1080p (1:78:1 aspect ratio) transfer in the film, may it be the trees, the vehicles and even the clothing and the people, “DEFIANCE” featured one of the best picture quality war films I have seen on Blu-ray yet.
As for audio, the film is presented in English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD (as well as French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital). The soundtrack features impressive action scenes as bombs utilize the low frequency sounds of the booms through the subwoofer, while gunshots galore are well delivered through the front channels. You also hear the ambiance of the forest which include the rustle of leaves, storms, birds and subtle noises around the area which can be heard quite nicely through your speakers.
Overall, there was really good delivery of audio but I didn’t notice a lot of rear surround usage for the film. The film does feature crystal clear dialogue and the music of James Newton Howard does come alive in showing the desperation felt by those in the forest camp. A lot of the action sequences do happen in the final 30 minutes of the film but overall, the soundtrack was well done.
Subtitles are featured in English, English SDH, French and Spanish.
“DEFIANCE” features the following special features:
- Commentary with Director Edward Zwick – Commentary by director Edward Zwick in regards to the screenplay being written for the film, the overall production, locations of where the film was shot and behind-the-scenes on the action sequences and more.
- Defiance: Return to the Forest – (26:05) A featurette presented in High Definition that is a “making-of” for the film “DEFIANCE” and features interviews with cast and crew who talk about their characters and also about the real life characters their characters are based on.
- Children of the Otriad: The Families Speak – (13:42) A very informative featurette in High Definition as the children and the grandchildren of the Bielski brothers talk about Tuvia, Zus, Asael and Lilka. Also, about going to Lithuania and to see the set of “DEFIANCE” and then visiting the forest that their father/grandfather/grandmother were at. The granddaughter of Tuvia filming a documentary with her grandmother Lilka about growing up in the Bielsky family. And last, being reunited with some of the survivors and families of the Bielski Partisan. Because of the Bielski’s, there are five generations of families and 19,000 people alive because of them.
- Scoring Defiance – (7:00) With composer/orchestrator James Newton Howard well-known for his musical work, this featurette is about Howard scoring “DEFIANCE”. Working with violinist Joshua Bell. Featuring interviews with Bell and Zwick.
- Bielski Partisan Survivors – (1:58) Photo/music montage in HD of the some of the Bielski Partisan survivors take in Nov. 2008 by director Zwick.
- Theatrical Trailers – There are two theatrical trailers (2:05 and 2:28) for the film in HD.
“DEFIANCE” is definitely a powerful film and although based on a true story, the story of the Bielski brothers will now be known by a generation not too familiar with how this family of brothers helped give refuge to up to 1,200 (or more) Jews from the Holocaust. Even afterwards, the brothers never looked at themselves as heroes and kept themselves low key throughout their lifetime.
If I had one major problem with the film is similar to other war or period films based on a true story, is the need to stray away from factual events in order to create action. Granted, for me it depends on the level of exaggeration and how far it strays from factual events. I understand why the Hollywood execs want to add the action sequences, because war battles lead to ticket sales.
A film like “ENEMY AT THE GATES” had to go that direction and historians were critical for its Hollywood dramatization and the same with “DEFIANCE”. According to reports, the original author of the book Nechama Lec was not too thrilled that in the film, the Bielski Partisans had to fight against German tanks, when the goal was to survive and not have head on confrontations. Polish historians were upset that the film was oversimplified and the facts that the forest were the Jewish were hiding in was in Poland and of course, anger that Bielski Partisans were not heroes but thieves who stole and badly treated Polish locals. But anger more so about the slaughters of Polish locals in the village of Naliboki which evidence has supported the murders were led by Russian partisans which many nationalists in Poland believe the Bielski’s were involved (former members of Bielski’s brigade and other historians have disputed this).
The director of the film, Ed Zwick has admitted that his film is not a simple fight between good and evil. In a statement, Zwick said “The Bielski’s weren’t saints. “They were flawed heroes, which is what makes them so real and so fascinating. They faced any number of difficult moral dilemmas that the movie seeks to dramatize: Does one have to become a monster to fight monsters? Does one have to sacrifice his humanity to save humanity?”
But the truth is that there are still many emotions that will continue no matter how many years have passed and when it comes to films in which war and crimes committed during war time, there will be some people who will think such things are justified, some who will think the opposite. There will always be people on both sides who will continue to disagree.
I can understand why the studios wanted to make certain deviations from the book to the film’s final cut. Especially for a film that costs $32 million to make, people come to the box office for these action sequence and fortunately the film was able to make its money back worldwide as it made over $44 million.
For me, what I found powerful was how these brothers provided a refuge and eventually rescued 1,200 Jews and how they had to live out challenges in the Forest under the worst conditions but their will to survive kept them going, even though they were being hunted down by the Germans. There are so many war stories from the past in all parts of the world that people would have never known about and for “DEFIANCE” to get the green light to be created and in the end, to come out so fascinating and again, so powerful, I was captivated by the willingness of those who wanted to live and survive, but if they died, they died because they wanted to live and for a purpose, not to be treated like an animal.
“DEFIANCE” is one of those films that captures the persistence of the human spirit and it may have been overly simplified to be a film about surviving in the forest but it’s the leadership that Daniel Craig brings to his character of Tuvia and Schreiber’s Gung-Ho fight mentality for his character of Zus that makes the film quite interesting. Unfortunately, the two go separate ways and the conflict between the two brothers starts to bring more focus on the camp, while the character of Zus gets the short end of the stick and is rarely utilized throughout the film.
But the film does have its flaws but personally, I found “DEFIANCE” absolutely enjoyable and the Blu-ray release of “DEFIANCE” does feature awesome picture quality, as well as audio quality plus enjoyable special features.
Overall, “DEFIANCE” is highly recommended!
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