Defiance
Giving me the stinkeye isn’t going to make me forgive you any faster.

Theatrical Release Date: 12/31/2008 (limited), 01/16/2009 (wide)
Director: Edward Zwick
Cast: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell, Alexa Davalos, Mark Feuerstein, George MacKay, Ravil Isyanov

Director Edward Zwick is no stranger to war films. His excellent effort on “Glory” has achieved its rightful acclaim and while there are varying opinions on “The Last Samurai”, at least it held my attention thanks to Ken Watanabe’s excellent performance. The same cannot be held true, however, for his latest picture, “Defiance”.

Starring James Bond (Daniel Craig), Sabretooth (Liev Schrieber) and Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell) as Jewish brothers hiding from the German army during World War II in the Belarussian forest, the film is based on a true story. The brothers’ efforts enabled over a thousand Jews to escape Nazi persecution and is a remarkable feat. They hid in the forest for over four years, battling not only Germans but bitterly cold weather and a severe lack of nourishment.

While a number of the actors don’t feel very authentic (Craig’s main love interest reminded me of Keri Russell from the first season of Felicity before she cut her hair – why do I know this?), their performances are decent and aren’t necessarily to blame for the lackluster result.

No, the bigger issues lie with a wooden script and Zwick’s apparent refusal to tighten up the reins on the film’s focus. Is it about the hardships of brothers trying to both establish dominance within their family unit and over a growing refugee-like population? Is it about finding love within the makeshift community after friends and family have been killed by the Germans? Is it about a ragtag group of farmers, poets and teachers rallying together to fight back against the Nazi invaders? Is it about the perseverance of the human spirit as the world goes to hell all around them? After sitting through this two-plus hour film, a significant portion of me just wants to ask: Who cares?

There are so many different elements struggling to co-exist and perhaps with more direction from Zwick, the film could have tied it all together. As it stands, however, it’s basically split up into sections – where one aspect was explored up until the group had to run away from the Germans who had found their hiding spot; then another aspect was explored … until the Germans found their hiding spot; then another aspect was explored …. until the Germans found their hiding spot … I think you’re starting to see the pattern.

Even more problematic is that because of all of the stops and starts to the film, audience fatigue is an issue. Midway through, I was more than ready to wrap it up and get the credits rolling so I could go and grab some lunch. But like an Eastern Bloc Energizer Bunny, the film keeps going and going and going. Perhaps even Zwick noticed this because rather than continuing the story to its end, the film packs it up midway through the real life ordeal and the audience is treated to some on-screen text telling us what happened over the course of the next TWO YEARS for them in the woods. Really? You spent over two hours hemming and hawing and their tale isn’t even close to being over?

Discounting the fact that Bell, Schrieber and Craig look nothing like brothers (without significant parental confusion), “Defiance” suffers from its inability to focus (though the actual cinematography was fairly good) and it feels like an aimless walk through the woods, cutting the real life story in half for the sake of only highlighting the parts that better lent itself to using tanks and guns. A 2 out of 5, you’ll find your money much better spent on a selection of fresh fruit, a picnic blanket and the gas it takes to drive to a shady spot on the grass at a local park.