Defiance

  • Directors: Edward Zwick
  • Producers: Edward Zwick, Pieter Jan Brugge
  • Writers: Clayton Frohman, Edward Zwick
  • Genres: Action, Drama, Thriller, War
  • Actors: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell, George MacKay

The film opens with on-screen text stating: “A true story”. It is August 1941 and Nazi forces are sweeping through Eastern Europe, targeting Jewish people. Among the survivors not killed or restricted to ghettoes are the Bielski brothers: Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Liev Schreiber), Asael (Jamie Bell), Aron (George MacKay). Their parents are dead, slain by the local police under orders from the occupying Germans. The brothers flee to the forest, vowing to avenge their parents.

They encounter other Jewish escapees hiding in the forest and the brothers take them under their protection and leadership. Over the next year, they shelter a growing number of refugees, raiding local farms for food and supplies, moving their camp whenever they are discovered by the Germans. Tuvia kills the local police chief responsible for his parents’ deaths and the brothers stage raids on the Germans and their collaborators, however Jewish casualties cause Tuvia to reconsider this approach because of the resulting risk to the hiding Jews. A long-time sibling rivalry between the two eldest brothers, Tuvia and Zus, fuels a disagreement between them about their future: as winter approaches, Zus elects to leave his brothers and the camp and join a local company of Soviet partisans, while his older brother Tuvia remains with the camp as their leader. An arrangement is made between the two groups in which the Soviet partisans agree to protect the Jewish camp in exchange for supplies.

After a winter of sickness, starvation, and constant hiding, the camp learns that the Germans are about to attack them in force. The Soviets refuse to help them and they evacuate the camp as German dive-bombers strike. A delaying force stays behind, led by Asael. The defense does not last long, with only Asael and another surviving to rejoin the rest of the group, who, at the edge of the forest, are confronted with a seemingly impassable marsh. They cross the marsh, but are immediately attacked by German infantry supported by a tank. Just as all seems lost, the Germans are assaulted from the rear by a partisan force led by Zus, who has grown disenchanted with the Soviets’ anti-Semitism. As the survivors escape into the forest, the film ends as on-screen text states that they survived another two years, ultimately growing to a total of 1,200 Jews. Original photographs of the real-life characters are shown, including Tuvia Bielski in his Polish Army uniform, and tells their ultimate fates: that Asael was killed in action shortly afterwards, but Tuvia, Zus and Aron survived the war and emigrated to America, and that the descendents of the people they saved now number in the tens of thousands.

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