For all the joking we do about WWII video games such as Call of Duty and Medal of Honor, the WWII movie genre isn’t nearly as overdone. In 2008, however, filmmakers had a bit of a WWII run, with both Defiance and Valkyrie hitting the silver screen albeit with different takes on the experience. Amazingly, both were true stories, but Defiance is definitely the better of the two, and with its recent release on Blu-ray Disc, home viewers can finally make the comparison for themselves.
Defiance follows the real-life story of three men in Belarus whose parents and spouses are killed by the Nazis, leaving them to fend for themselves in the cold, harsh forests surrounding their home. Hardened individuals, this trio is certainly capable of caring for themselves under normal circumstances, but when you add into the equation a manhunt by Nazi soldiers and Nazi regime supporters, things get hairy. And then there’s the little matter of several dozen forlorn (and arguably weaker) refugees stumbling upon them in the forest and asking to join their community.
From this point on, Defiance essentially tells two coming-of-age stories. The first is for the three men, each of whom has his own demons to exorcise and/or follow, while the other is of the community of refugees itself, which must learn to not only fight for survival, but fight to restore a sense of dignity and vitality to their forest-bound community. The story is nothing short of superb, the acting generally fits that same bill, and the knowledge that Defiance is truly based on a real-life story makes the end result an absolute gem to watch.
The video quality in Defiance is very crisp, and the amount of detail that manages to pop in the dense forest environments is quite surprising. Normally a forest environment isn’t forgiving when there aren’t crisp details including individual evergreen needles and foliage, but the 1080p video misses no detail, and the greens and browns are vibrant throughout, an important piece of the visual puzzle when almost the entirety of the film takes place in the woods.
The DTS-HD Master Audio is generally good as well, and the use of the surround-sound channels is phenomenal whether the scene takes place in the rain or in the middle of a firefight against Nazi soldiers. It’s stereotypical to talk about bullets splintering wood behind the viewer, but in Defiance, those sounds are exactly what helps immerse viewers in the setting, The Energy RC-Micro home theater system delivered the sound for this review.which is rife with trees that are ripe for splintering. Defiance ultimately makes better use of the rear and surround channels in its gunfight sequences than most other Blu-ray movies on the market, and this is largely simply the nature of the film. After all, most action films have tons of explosions and loud ambient noises to distract from the surround channels, whereas Defiance takes place in a mostly quiet forest that lends itself to viewers paying attention to the surround effects. It’s really too bad the audio suffers from such atrocious imbalance, because as excellent as the use of the surround channels may be, viewers will likely miss about one-fifth of the effects due to the constant need to adjust the volume levels to accommodate dialogue versus action scenes.
The bonus features include such staples as a Feature-length commentary by director Edward Zwick, a musical expose called Scoring Defiance and both Theatrical Trailers, but since Defiance is based on a true story, it’s the documentary-like features that really bring the bonus feature roster to life (much like in Valkyrie). In Defiance: Return to the Forest (26:05), a making-of featurette, we learn a bit more about how the producers came across the story and then enticed the cast and crew to participate. This naturally includes the requisite behind-the-scenes footage and cast/crew insights into making the film, but it’s impossible to have such a feature without discussing the inspirational real-life story, so this piece serves as a great entree into the larger exploration of the story in the subsequent features.
Children of the Otriad (13:42), for instance, is comprised exclusively of interviews with the descendants of Tuvia and Zus Bielski who give more real-life insight into the incredible men who lived for two years in the forest. The movie is inspirational in and of itself, but hearing from Tuvia’s and Zus’ children how modest they were even in light of their incredible story is nothing short of phenomenal. My only complaint about this feature: it’s not long enough. Likewise, Bielski Partisan Survivors (1:58) is simply a collection of photos of some of the people who lived with the Bielski brothers during their two-year fight to find civilization. Although there’s no audio, the black-and-white photos are powerful reminders that this story wasn’t just something cooked-up for Hollywood, but an honest-to-God story of perseverance and cultural preservation.
Most moviegoers are familiar with Daniel Craig as the new James Bond, so seeing him in a different role such as his part in Defiance will be a novelty at first. Hearing Craig try his hand at a non-Bond accent is also a bit odd, though the end result delivers just enough credibility to make it believable. But looking beyond Craig and seeing the plot and cast as a whole, Defiance is clearly the 2008 WWII film most worth watching. If Blu-ray owners pick up Defiance just to see Craig do something other than Bond, they’re bound to be pleasantly surprised by the overall product. Heck, even people who know what Craig is capable of are likely to enjoy the experience. Defiance isn’t your traditional action film, but then again, its real-life story isn’t your traditional story told about WWII.
Buy Defiance on Blu-ray from Amazon.com.
- Score: 8.8
— Jonas Allen