Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Defiance - almost there

Based (loosely) on a real story, with solid cast, directing and performance, wonderful scenery and lightning, and brilliant camera work, 'Defiance' stands out in the line of pale bleak movies that we are sadly getting more and more used to nowadays. The movie tells with heart and compassion the story of a group of hunted Jews' struggle for survival during the Nazi occupation of Byelorussia in WW2. Although there is some controversy surrounding the Bielski group, including accusations of war crimes against the local population, that doesn't necessarily reduce the value of the film and its message, neither it diminishes the fact they saved hundreds of people. 

I must admit, I was skeptical at first about Daniel Craig, but he managed to show that his success is not a coincidence. I could have done with less of him speaking Russian though; I don't think that was especially necessary as in fact it took some of his credibility away. However, his co-star Liev Schreiber is the one who really stands out delivering powerful and remarkably believable performance. The effort put in costumes, visual modding, weaponry and set building definitely pays out, adding to the credibility of the movie.

The value of the photography can not be overstated, there are sequences shot in absolutely stunning way, and this should be considered one of the movie's strongest points. While this inevitably draws comparisons to the 1985 Byelorussian classic 'Go and see', this movie is significantly more accessible being far from the blood-chilling stupor and hopelessness of the latter.

With all of the above, 'Defiance' is far from perfect. For example, the interleaving of scenes from the wedding and the combat action was unnecessary spoon-feeding show of contrast. But where the movie fails pathetically is at the attempt of its creators to push some of their own political agenda in quite a ham-fisted way - and there goes the spoonful of tar. Yeah, yeah, we all know that the Russians are murderous bastards, evil Commies (and bigots), they drink shitloads of vodka and give random Jews a black eye for no reason, name any 'Enemy at the gates'-style cliche you can think of - and you will find it in this movie. However, regardless of the other crimes attributed to them, they didn't persecute the Jews, so I find the explicit and recurring statement 'They are no better than the Germans' quite inappropriate and distasteful in this particular movie.

If you can shrug off these blatant shortcomings, then 'Defiance' is definitely worth seeing.
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