Daniel Craig is still looking for his quantum of solace in this WW2 yarn, which sees the Brit as one of three Jewish brothers hiding from the Nazis in the woods of Belarus.
“Each day of freedom is a victory,” Craig’s sturdy Tuvia Bielski tells the assorted refugees who flock to his makeshift camp. Yet his touchy-feely
approach clashes with that of younger brother Zus (Liev Schreiber) who believes the best way to get payback for his murdered relatives is to slaughter as many Germans as possible.
“We must not become like them!” pleads Tuvia. “Yes, but at least we can kill like them,” replies Zus, who leaves to join a Russian faction using guerrilla tactics against the occupying army.
This conflict between armed and passive resistance is at the heart of Last Samurai director Edward Zwick’s earnest epic, a film that - while challenging the stereotypical image of Holocaust Jews as defenceless victims – comes with its own ration of slam-bang wartime clichés.
Defiance proves intriguing as it outlines the internal workings of the real-life Bielski otriad with its bickering intellectuals (Allan Corduner and Mark Feuerstein, arguing their respective positions over a seemingly endless game of chess), flirty fillies (Alexa Davalos, Iben Hjejle) and everyday battles with hunger, typhus and the weather.
Tuvia’s horseback address to his clandestine community is straight out of Braveheart, though, while the sequence where baby brother Jamie Bell’s wedding is intercut with a partisan raid on a German stronghold suggests Zwick has watched The Godfather one too many times.
It’s bombastic overkill proves Defiance’s biggest liability. Craig’s single-handed assault on a Nazi division makes his character resemble nothing so much as a Jewish John Wayne.
There’s also no mention of the fourth Bielski brother Aron, arrested in Florida last year for allegedly putting his elderly neighbour in a nursing home
and stealing her life savings.
“Jews don’t fight!” mutters a Red Army soldier. “These Jews do!” says another admiringly. Great pitch, largely undone by stilted, solemn direction.