If the Third Reich had declared war on central casting, the Bielskis would have been screwed

REVIEW A serious Holocaust movie like Edward Zwick's Defiance has to start with archival footage. See, there's Hitler, shouting in German. Say! Where did Zwick get shots of the Wehrmacht plundering the Bielski farm in Belarus? Oh, it's fading into color — guess he filmed them himself. After the German invasion of Russia, the Bielski brothers took refuge in a nearby forest. They harassed Hitler's supply line, provided shelter to fellow Jews, and generally defied things (Nazis, collaborators, Russians, each other). They led complicated but ultimately heroic lives, the kind that Hollywood distills into turgid cinematic pablum before slapping on a "based on a true story" title card. The times were rife with moral quandaries, difficult decisions, and summary execution. Zwick's characters grapple with these thorny issues by shouting at each other, brow-furrowing, and brooding. If the Third Reich had declared war on central casting, the Bielskis would have been screwed: Daniel Craig is charismatic, but uncomfortable with leadership; Liev Schreiber is passionate, but too thirsty for revenge; Jamie Bell is meek and shy, but overcomes these defects. Harried by an acne-scarred traitor, they protect the socialist in Trotsky glasses, the avuncular rabbi who never thought they would amount to anything, and their three perfectly calibrated love interests. Take that, Nazis!

DEFIANCE opens Fri/16 in Bay Area theaters.

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