By Fred Topel | Image property of Paramount Vantage
Defiance is a good story. It's just the actual filmmaking goes way overboard. The Polish resistance in the Belarussia forest is exciting and full of juicy moral issues. The filmmakers were just scared it wasn't obvious enough.
It sort of starts in the middle of things already, or in medea res for you Greek tragedy scholars. The rebellion has already started as soon as they take to the woods.
The first action scene is the action of real life, messy and not graceful. It's still rousing. You still know the stakes and the methods they're using. And it's all handheld camera of course, because everything is now.
They become better shots by the next gunfight though so most of the action is standard battle. Again, it's solid stuff. This is how a group of civilians fought off an army in the forest.
The really interesting stuff is the survival drama. They build shelters and bunkers, they get supplies and food, put refugees' skills and assets to use for the group's benefit. You don't see toilets and showers though.
They speak openly about the themes and the hardships the Jews are facing, but hey, the holocaust wasn't subtle. Two characters continually debate politics and philosophy. That's just pretentious. For sure, Defiance will win any award with a category for best gurgling death scene.
The point is that the rebels try to be the better people but sh*t has to happen in war. That's a very valid point and it gets tough for the heroes like you'd expect. They juxtapose a wedding with a gun battle. They should also do that with a christening and a mob hit. That could work too.
The language is confusing, as they speak accented English amongst each other but subtitled Polish and Russian to officers, which is about half the movie. So why bother?
Also, to be nitpicky, the starving survivors don't look any thinner than normal. Where's the Into the Wild/Machinist commitment here?
For all its problems, Defiance is not boring. It's basic, it's on the surface, but it makes its point. It's action and survival in a facet of World War II that I never knew about before.