Dir: Edward Zwick

Rating: 2.5

Paramount Vantage

137 Minutes

Dear Hollywood (and other filmmakers):

Please stop making Holocaust movies. Don’t let me tell you how to do your job, but setting a story in Europe during the 1940s just does not add gravitas to a shitty script. Look, you guys have Valkyrie, The Reader and now Defiance all coming out within months of one another. I know that Oscar loves him some Holocaust, but come on, this is getting out of control.

So why my special aversion to the Holocaust? I just think it’s low to take one of our biggest modern tragedies and turn into box office gold. For every golden film about it (Alain Resnais’ searing Night and Fog) we get two bumble headed ones that are riddled with clichés and gory violence.

Is it a compliment when the best thing I can say about Edward Zwick’s Defiance is that I wasn’t bored? Is it odd that for the second time recently blonde-haired Daniel Craig is playing a Jew (see Munich)? Of course, this one is based on a true story about a band of Jews hiding out in a Belarussian forest, building first a community and then a militia to fight off these faceless, evil Nazis. More an action film that a serious look at the atrocities of the Holocaust, Defiance has all the bloody fights and cliché-ridden dialogue of a Bruce Willis action flick.

Once their village is destroyed by the Germans, the Brothers Bielski (Craig with Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell) take to the woods and slowly, using the help of other refugees, build a new community. But, oy vey, the clichés. There’s the old rabbi to whom Craig must prove himself. There’s the weak intellectual ripe to become a hero. There’s the surly cipher only there to challenge the Bielski regime. There is also the requisite violin music that so hauntingly cues us that this is A Holocaust Movie.

If all of that isn’t bad enough, there are enough Spielbergian, life-affirming slogans to kill even the most fearsome Nazi. “Our vengeance is to live!” What the hell is that? These people are starving and freezing to death. Nothing is worse than hearing something such as, “If I was a German, you’d be dead.” Logic doesn’t seem to apply in this universe either. Why does the farmer’s wife wait until after the Bielskis cut down her dead husband to show them the group of people huddled in a subterranean hiding place?

But, dear Hollywood, I know this sounds like a vile review. Please note again, I was not bored, just very displeased that the Holocaust is used, once again, as a place and time to pass off entertainment as art. Why do you have two Brits playing Slavic Jews? Why is Schreiber, the most interesting brother, given so little screen time? Why do some characters speak in badly accented English and others in the correct, subtitled dialect? Do you realize that by showing us firing lines and gas chambers and beatings over and over you are not doing the Holocaust survivors and the dead a service? You are numbing us, Hollywood, numbing us to a horror that should, never, never be taken lightly.

by David Harris

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One Comment

  1. Anonymous

    March 28, 2020 at 11:17 am

    Maybe with out this movie I wouldn’t have known these people at all, you ever thought about that maybe their struggle wasn’t for nothing.


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