** out of ****
You can count on Edward Zwick to deliver a solid action/drama period piece. Usually. It seems he's made so many that he thinks it's easy. Defiance can be at times exciting, violent, even heartbreaking. What the movie has in it is good; it's what the movie lacks that makes it less than great.
Daniel Craig is probably the best part of the movie. He is clearly taking roles very different from James Bond to try to avoid being typecast, and I think it's working. He sports a very un-Bond-like red leather coat and a Yiddish accent, and plays the character at first out for revenge, then heartbroken and trying to be a firm leader.
Craig is Tuvia Bielski, and Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell play his younger brothers Zus and Asael, respectively. As the movie opens, the Nazis are sweeping through Belurussia killing or taking away all the Jewish people. The parents of the three brothers are killed, and they later receive news of their wives' and even childrens' deaths. They immediately run into the woods to hide and come across many other people doing the same thing. At first they are reluctant to stay with them all, but soon they recruit many more people to join them, even breaking into a ghetto and evacuating everyone out of there and into the woods. There, they build their own homes and create a community where everyone works and helps out everybody else when needed. Tuvia, at first seen as a great leader the likes of Jesus Christ, soon gets sick and his reluctance to kill other people makes his leadership questioned. At the beginning of the movie, he finds the man who killed his parents, storms into his house during their dinner, and kills him and his two sons. After that, he fights back but doesn't want to kill anymore.
The film opens and the action starts very abruptly. By the time Tuvia shoots his parents' killer, the film has been going for maybe ten minutes and we have to assume he is some sort of soldier who kills people all the time. We never get to know any of the characters, and the relationship between the brothers is revealed later on. Tuvia and Zus do not like each other, and Zus eventually leaves to join the Soviet army. But the audience is not given a good reason why he does this; the two just start fighting randomly.
The film does seem to have more virtues than faults: it has some moving scenes, several good performances, and some violent and exciting action scenes, especially the climactic bomb raid, chase and battle in the woods. But when the movie is over, the viewer reflects back and realizes that for all of the important and weighty topics the film covered, it offered nothing new about the Holocaust, war, or even brotherhood. Hollywood's recent slew of Holocaust films doesn't help, and this one will simply fade away with all the rest.
I would recommend this film to people who like war movies, and fans of Daniel Craig.
You can watch the trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WYZ2oYDSKHA