Daniel Craig, the best James Bond since Sean Connery, no matter how much Quantum of Solace sucked his spirit, gets a true story to dig into this time. And it’s a doozy. In Defiance, Craig brings grit and gravity to the role of Tuvia Bielski, the eldest of three Jewish brothers who led the resistance against the Nazis from their base in the Nalibocka Forest in Belorussia during World War II. Joseph Stalin, who famously opined that “Jews make poor warriors,” never met the Bielskis. Brother Zus (an outstanding Liev Schreiber) is a hothead who thinks Tuvia is too conciliatory. Younger brother Asael (Jamie Bell) labors to find a balance between Zus, who wants revenge by gun, grenade and whatever’s handy, and Tuvia, who believes that “our revenge is to live.”
Just as he did with the black soldiers in the Civil War-themed Glory, director Edward Zwick has seized on a strong, underserved subject. The excellent source material is Defiance: The Bielski Partisans, by historian Nechama Tec. Sadly, the script by Zwick and Clayton Frohman veers off into action clichés, clunky dialogue and Hollywood hoo-ha (a bare-chested sex scene for Craig — please!) when the facts reveal a richer tale. For all the film’s flaws, this is a war story told with passion about a band of brothers that still has the power to inspire.