By Renee Longstreet,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Brave brothers risk all in brutal, graphic WWII epic.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Classic good-versus-evil situations. Bravery and selflessness are shown to be powerful forces against the enemy. Meanwhile, the Nazis wreak havoc on the Polish Jews -- rounding them up, killing them, bombing them, and spraying bullets into large groups of people (including women and children).
Positive Role Models
Most of the characters aren't clearly "good" or "bad." For instance, Russian soldiers are shown to be heroic but also anti-Semitic. And the Jewish victims who fight back are shown to be both honorable and selfish, just and unjust.
Violence & Scariness
Violent battle scenes from beginning to end. Piles of naked bodies lie in a dry river bed; babies and children are wrenched from parents' arms and slaughtered; bombs are dropped on fleeing victims. There are many instances of cold-blooded, point-blank shooting, including the execution of entire families. There are also vicious fist fights, stabbings, and a lengthy scene in which an angry mob beats and stomps a Nazi soldier to death.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A man's hand touches a woman's breast over her clothes. Several passionate kisses. One couple is shown embracing, with their bare shoulders visible above blankets to indicate a post-sexual moment.
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Harsh swearing throughout, including all forms of "f--k" and many instances of "s--t," "bitch, " and "hell."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Multiple scenes of Russian soldiers, victims, survivors, and partisans drinking vodka. One leading character drinks heavily. Several scenes in which men drink until they become very drunk. Camaraderie inspired by drunkenness appears to be the only form of recreation available to these people who are hiding out for years.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this war movie isn't for kids. There are many fierce battles and violently graphic killings, as well as executions of unarmed citizens. Other images include hand-to-hand combat, mob beatings, point-blank shootings, and barbaric, inhumane treatment of the Jewish population. The language is very strong as well, with lots of harsh swearing. There's some suggested sexuality, but nothing explicit and no nudity. Soldiers and resistance members drink vodka in many scenes, sometimes to excess. But if they can handle the intense content, this movie could offer mature teens and young adults a valuable look at a momentous period of recent world history and a vivid example of heroism -- as well as power and prejudice run amok.
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What's the Story?
At the height of the Nazi occupation of Poland, three Jewish brothers find their family slaughtered and other Jews being rounded up in the countryside -- with mass killings or extermination camps their sure fate. The brothers escape into the dense Belarussian forest; on the way, eldest brother Tuvia Bielski (Daniel Craig) comes to the rescue of a small group of terrified Jews on the run. The refugees follow the brothers into the forest, against the better judgment of volatile middle brother Zus (Liev Schreiber), who's certain that their presence will make them all more vulnerable. With Tuvia's help, more and more displaced Jews find their way to the constantly moving Bielski encampment, and a fragile community is established. Some of the able-bodied join forces with the Russian resistance, while others remain with Tuvia, fighting the Nazis and disrupting their brutal purpose. Lives are lost; relationships are built; bravery and sacrifice are rewarded.
Is It Any Good?
Edward Zwick wants to make passionate movies, and DEFIANCE is no exception. The story of a Jewish arm of the Resistance hasn't been told before, not like this. The film is exciting, shot with skill and a singular ability to show the harrowing savagery and heroic behavior that lived and breathed in the early 1940s.
Defiance is less successful when it zeroes in on the stories of the individual people who make up the refugee community. Then the filmmakers rely on certain stereotypes: the intellectual chess players, the leering hothead, the sibling rivalry. Still, it's well worth seeing, if only as an important reminder of where the world has been and how much care must be taken never to return there.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about why so many movies about World War II and the Holocaust are still being made so long after the events occurred. What connection do stories about these events have with today's world?
Are there still instances in which strong beliefs set people apart and against one another? How do you think the media will end up treating current conflicts further down the line?
Why do you think the Bielski brothers were heroic? What made them different from the people who were afraid to stand up for themselves?
- In theaters: December 31, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: June 1, 2009
- Cast: Daniel Craig, Jamie Bell, Liev Schreiber
- Director: Edward Zwick
- Studio: Paramount Vantage
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 137 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violence and language
- Last updated: April 4, 2023
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