Defiance (2008) Review

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Defiance… And an Aryan will lead them.

Defiance (2008): 4 out of 10: I have a soft spot for director Edward Zwick. I have a real soft spot for his Blood Diamond flick despite its pedestrian script and subconscious racism. Also, The Last Samurai is another film of his that I loved despite its historical inaccuracies and bizarre lead casting. Defiance shares many of the same endemic faults that plagued those two films. I could not ignore these flaws this time; I found them even more discordant as the film went on.

Problem number one is Daniel Craig. He does not look like an Eastern Polish Jew. He seems like he misplaced his Oberstleutnant uniform at the Wehrmacht’s cleaners. Even if you could accept Daniel Craig as some sort of Paul Newman style Jew who parachuted into Eastern Europe, only Helen Keller would buy him as Lev Schreiber’s brother. A mutant dancing Australian is a more believable brother for Schreiber than Craig is.

Craig and Schreiber seem to be in two different films, and Schreiber is in the much better one. Schreiber appears to be in the here and now with a robust subtle performance that is the best thing in the film. Daniel Craig’s performance is as shaky as his accent. He, of course, is forced to do things like give Braveheart speeches from the back of a white horse, so the fault is hardly his alone. And saying platitudes such as “Our vengeance is to live” and “Every day of freedom is like an act of faith” while gazing at the camera with those, give me an Oscar and I will go back to entertaining you, baby blues don’t help his cause either.

Problem number Two is best summarized by one of my favorite ladies.

I don’t think we really need another film about the Holocaust, do we? It is like, how many have there been, you know. We get it. It was grim. Move on. No, I am doing it because I have noticed that if you do a film about the Holocaust, you are guaranteed an Oscar … That is why I am doing it. Schindler’s bloody List. The Pianist. Oscars coming out of their arse.

— Kate Winslet (Winner of the 2008 Best Actress Oscar for Holocaust drama The Reader) in Extras, 2005

Defiance is Oscar bait. In one scene Daniel “Moses” Craig leads his people through the reeds and swamps and away from the forest (and inexplicably away from decent cover and fortifications) until a Rabbi collapses, sputters out “I almost lost my faith, but you were sent by God to save us” and then promptly dies… oy vey. It is not that easy to make a mainstream Holocaust film, release it in December, and get no nominations* for Golden Globes or Oscars. Defiance is trying too hard.

The third problem is that a third rate cast of Fiddler on the Roof somehow showed up lost in the woods. Somebody call the Jewish stereotype prison, cause there has been a mass escape. Everyone is here. We have the nebbish intellectual who cannot hammer a nail, the passive Jews who are unwilling to fight, the greedy Jew more interested in money than his fellow man. Good lord, it is as if Leni Riefenstahl’s traveling troop of stereotypes showed up. Thank goodness Daniel Craig is here to straighten them all out and lead them to the Promised Land. Yup, blond, blue-eyed Daniel Craig…. Yeah, the movie has issues.

*No nominations except, inexplicably, for its score; which at two hours of crying violins that will test anyone’s nerves.

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