This Edward Zwick film bases its main details on the true stories of the Bielski brothers. The Jewish family lived in Poland in the late 1930s and was terrorized by the SS. This particular chapter chronicles their decision to live in the forest (again) but this time as a community. They take in stragglers, older folks, and children. The struggle comes not just in their survival, but the difference of philosophies among the brothers. Tuvia (Daniel Craig), is the oldest and clearly demands the most respect. This films portrays him as a general who must make difficult decisions that may mean hardship, but also means the best chance for enduring. They building homes and defenses, and learn to shoot. Just one of the many such images that stands out is Craig, slumped with illness and hunger, atop of a white horse in the snowy woods. No presence is more commanding, except perhaps Washington at Valley Forge.
In addition to his responsibility to his wards, he must also look after his younger brothers, both more hot-headed (and idealistic) than he. Zus (Liev Schreiber) has a more hardened approach to dealing with the strenuous circumstances. Never thinking they do enough to make the Germans hurt, Zus leaves the forest and goes to fight with the Russian resistance. Schreiber portrays this ambivalence well. He is caught between his family and his principles (which makes it all the more stunning when he makes a final stand).
The most implusive of all is Asael (Jamie Bell). Seeing this youngest brother and parents get killed, he is the most angry. From his anger, and naivete, comes courage that proves invaluable.
Defiance does a very fine job of displaying a portrait of life. Of being forced to live in the woods or face certain death, Tuvia says, “We may live like animals, but we will not become animals.” The film, brilliantly acted, certainly shows this to be true, despite the many hardships. The brothers, and other characters are constantly tested. Their morals, their convictions, and their humanity are always being tried.
Ultimately, the film is about balance. When do you stay, and when do you go? When to you risk all for the temporary safety of the few? When do you run and when do you fight back? When do you cross your own line and how do you come home?

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