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Defiance (2008)

Paramount Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 6/2/2009

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/7/2009

In my recent review for Valkyrie, I wrote that I've never been a fan of World War II movies. And yet, here I am reviewing another one in less than a week's time. And as with the earlier title, Defiance focuses on a little known true story from the work which explores another, but very different group of individuals who stood up against the Nazis.

Defiance takes place in 1941 and is set in the country of Belorussia. There, we are introduced to the four Bielski brothers -- Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Liev Schreiber), Asael (Jamie Bell), and Aron (George MacKay). As the story opens, the Nazis have invaded the area and are killing and capturing any Jewish citizens that they find. The Bielski brothers find that the family farm has been ransacked and that their parents are dead. Unsure of what to do, they flee into the forest. There, they meet others from their village who are also attempting to hide. Tuvia assumes control of the group and they decide that for the time being, the forest is the best place to stay. Soon, many others join their group and they create a society in the woods. Constantly on the lookout for the Germans and battling the elements, the group scavenges for food and weapons. But, how long will they be able to live under such conditions?

While Defiance and Valkyrie are very different in terms of story and style, the films are somewhat similar. Both are set during World War II and both highlight true stories of individuals who were willing to fight back against the Germans. But, the movies have very different tones.

Defiance comes from Director Edward Zwick and frequent collaborator Marshall Herskovitz. Zwick is known for his accurately portrayals of historical events in films like Glory, The Last Samurai, and Courage Under Fire. The same is true with Defiance. The 136-minute movie details the trials and tribulations of the refugees as they attempt to survive in the forest. However, this is where the tone varies from Valkyrie. Valkyrie took on a somber tone at times and presented very serious themes, but there was also a sense of hope in the film. We never get much hope in Defiance though. In short, the movie is quite depressing. While I realize that this isn't meant to be a happy-go-lucky, the film's bleak tone wears the viewer down after a while.

The film also suffers from a sense of redundancy. Sure, there are plenty of films which take place in only one setting, but the bleak landscape of the Belarus forest gets old very quickly. There are only a few scenes in the film which aren't set in the forest and most of these are over very quickly. So, what we have with Defiance is a long, depressing movie in which the story is played out over a dreary backdrop. This doesn't sound very appealing, does it?

The fact that these two facets put a damper on Defiance and will no doubt drive many viewers away is truly a shame, because at its core, we have an interesting movie. I've got to assume that many Americans are like me and have never heard of the Bielski brothers before. Their tale of heroism and resistance is a truly inspiring one and one which deserves to be told. The acting in the film is top-notch and the intense scenes between Craig and Schreiber form the backbone of the movie. But, even the occasional action scene can't overcome the plodding sameness of the movie.

Defiance learns to live amongst the trees on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only a slight amount of grain and no defects from the source material. However, I did notice that in some shots, the actor's skin looks somewhat "smeared". The colors look good and the image is never too dark or bright. The level of depth is very good, making the forest look as if it goes on forever. The Disc offers a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects in the forest are good and nicely detailed, especially when gunfire is approaching. The bombing scene sounds great, as it provides impressive surround sound and subwoofer effects.

The Defiance Blu-ray Disc contains a smattering of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Edward Zwick. "Defiance: Return to the Forest" (26 minutes) is a very detailed making-of featurette. We get interviews with the cast and filmmakers, as well as a nice amount of on-set footage. The speakers talk about the story, the characters, and the challenges of shooting the film. "Children of the Otriad" (14 minutes) features interviews with the descendents of the Bielski brothers who describe their heritage and their pride in their family. We get to see composer James Newton Howard at work with his musicians in "Scoring Defiance" (7 minutes). "Bielski Partisan Suvivors" (2 minutes) is a photo slide-show of pictures taken by Edward Zwick which shows the real-life survivors. The extras are rounded out by two THEATRICAL TRAILERS for the film.

Paramount Home Entertainment has also brought Defiance to DVD. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing slight grain, but it's also somewhat dark. The colors look fine, but there is some artifacting present. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. While not as clear or detailed as the lossless track found on the Blu-ray, we still get good stereo, surround, and subwoofer effects here.

Save for the two trailers, the extras on the DVD are the same as those found on the Blu-ray Disc.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long