Pilot at the Movies

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

'Defiance' not so fiesty as title

If only "Defiance" were as spirited and feisty as the title suggests. And it held such promise, too.

The real-life story of brothers who lead their fellow Jews into the forest of Belarus during summer 1941 to fight Nazis and form their own community offers a glimpse into a facet of the Holocaust we might not have known about before. Such a new angle is hard to find, especially recently, when there's been a slew of films with Holocaust themes including "Valkyrie," ''The Reader" and "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas."

But director Edward Zwick's movie never finds a way to grab you emotionally, despite typically strong performances from Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber as two of the Bielski brothers, Tuvia and Zus. It's as if Zwick was more concerned with making sure we know the movie is about Something Important - which should be obvious - rather than taking any narrative or aesthetic risks or delving into the complexity of the characters.

Tuvia is the stoic leader and protector; younger brother Zus is the bloodthirsty rebel; Jamie Bell, as the youngest of the three, is caught somewhere in the middle. Women who've shown up from various villages and walks of life become their "forest wives," their primary function apparently being to fawn over them and then worry about them when they head off into potential danger. Naturally, Craig gets the most beautiful forest wife of all: the mysterious, blue-eyed Lilka (Alexa Davalos), with whom he shares a tastefully lighted tumble in a bundle of furs. (He is James Bond, after all.)

But the Bielskis also get help, as their ranks grow, from refugees from all over who've heard about their hidden village and want to hide, forge a new life and, eventually, fight back - everyone from carpenters to intellectuals. The rare moments of comic relief come from their attempts to fool nearby villagers out of their food.

Otherwise, there's something too muted, too respectful and, ultimately, too didactic about Zwick and Clayton Frohman's script, based on the book by Nechama Tec. It's a great story told in a remarkably unremarkable way. "Defiance" is rated R. Grade: Two stars out of four.

Auditions set for 'Odd Couple'

Tryouts are being held tonight (Tuesday) and Thursday for the Cherokee Community Theatre's version of "The Odd Couple." There are six male and two female roles. Tryouts are at 7 p.m. at the Community Center. The play runs March 13-22. For more information, call Jackie at 225-4046.