The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Monday, January 26, 2009


Somewhat disappointingly, Defiance has struggled at the box office these last two weekends so before it completely slipped out of theaters I went and saw it today. Really, how can a movie with Daniel Craig going up against Nazis not be worth the price of admission? I ended up liking it, but not loving it. First off, it's not the action movie it has been presented as in the trailer and commercials on TV.
That's not a bad thing here as the action scenes are highly effective and feel very realistic. For one, not everyone hits at what they aim at. I "love" action movies where the good guy always hits his mark. It kind of takes the suspense out of things. Back to the movie though, it tells the story of four brothers, the Bielskis, who take to the woods in 1941 Belorussia, now German-occupied territory, after SS squads and local police start rounding up Jews, some of whom are shot on the spot and others transported away to ghettos and labor camps.

By far the strongest part of the movie are the two leads, Craig as Tuvia Bielski, the oldest of four brothers who emerges as a leader, and Liev Schreiber as Zus Bielski, the second oldest who loses his wife and child to the death squads. Hiding in the woods, they begin to draw attention, in a good way, as other fleeing Jews look for safety. Soon, the Bielskis must start to protect and provide for hundreds of fleeing Jews who start new lives in the relative safety of the woods.

Tuvia and Zus are about as different as two brothers can be, but they have one obvious thing in common; survival. Tuvia does not want to fight back against the Germans unless absolutely necessary. His 'defiance' will be by living the life they tried to take away from him. Zus couldn't disagree more, he wants to take the fight to the Germans and ends up joining a Russian partisan outfit. The tension between the brothers drives the movie as we see the two paths diverge and meet again several times in the story.

Back to the action, there are several running firefights including a few as the Bielskis first take on the Germans, learning what's effective, and then developing into bigger battles. The finale is a good one, director Edward Zwick is no stranger to moving battle scenes, as the Bielskis and Co. are caught out in the open by a German tank and supporting infantry. Watch the finale to 1989's Glory (massive SPOILERS if you haven't seen the movie) and tell me it isn't one of the most powerful battle scenes ever made. I get teary-eyed just thinking about it. My issue with the adversaries, the Germans, is that no face is put with the "bad guys." They're more of a presence than anything, looming in the woods and towns waiting to strike.

Because the movie is mostly set in camps in the woods, parts do drag a bit in the middle in between battle scenes. Other than some slow-moving scenes in the middle, and a forgettable score by James Newton Howard (typically as reliable a composer as is out there), this is a WWII drama worth recommending, notably for the performances of Daniel Craig, quickly becoming one of my favorite actors, and Liev Schreiber. It's a moving tale of survival based on a little known true story from WWII that shouldn't disappoint. Just don't blink or it may already be out of theaters!

Rating: ***/****

No comments:

Post a Comment