The old line on Holocaust dramas was that no film, regardless of how serious, could ever truly capture the horror. These days, you would have to look far and wide to find a Holocaust movie that even tries to capture the full, unimaginable horror. The subject may be survivor's guilt gone mad (Adam Resurrected), a mission impossible to assassinate Hitler (Valkyrie), or a death camp guard's Summer of '42 of sexiness and secret shame (The Reader), but in this season of grimly hooky Third Reich parables, it's hard to shake the feeling that the Holocaust has turned from the ultimate furrowed-brow movie theme into a genre, with its own built-in flowers-of-evil mystique. Rarely has genocide been put to the service of so much unabashed...entertainment.
Remember that scene in Knocked Up where Seth Rogen's Ben said that he dug Munich because he finally got to see a film in which the Jews kicked ass? He would have loved Defiance even more. In this true story of a WWII siege met with courage under fire, director Edward Zwick drops us into the Lipicza´nska Forest in Belorussia in 1941, just after the Nazis have invaded. Daniel Craig, with his craggy squint of pain, and Liev Schreiber, all stocky, bottled rage, are Tuvia and Zus Bielski, who decide to save themselves with an innovative strategy: They fight back. The two have never killed anyone, but when Craig's Tuvia busts into the home of the officer who murdered his parents, what should have been a Michael Corleone-finds-his-inner-thug moment turns into something a bit more Hollywood, as he blows the guy away and his two sons, to boot without a tremor of doubt or anxiety. The film has barely begun, and Tuvia already looks like he's been doing this his whole life.
In the woods, the Bielski brothers offer protective cover to local Jews, and their roving camp becomes a scruffy exodus, growing in numbers each day. Tuvia, leading them to the promised land of safety, is meant to be Moses in a brown leather jacket but really, he's more like Oskar Schindler and Charles Bronson in one grimly compassionate, fearless, Nazi-blasting package. Zwick offers excitingly staged moments, but once you get past the novelty of WWII Jews acting this heroically macho, Defiance bogs down in a not very well-developed script. It's a repetitive stop-and-start action film, and Tuvia and Zus don't have enough layers. But they do kick ass charismatically.
As a professor drafted into the Nazi Party (despite his liberal ideals), Viggo Mortensen, in the tiny but worthy Good, does what may be his most fascinating acting. He reveals the soul of an intellectual who's enlightened to everything but where the lust for absolute power leads. Good has a stagy fustiness, but it's worth seeing for Mortensen, who makes this study of a "good German" look creepily contemporary. He shows us the horror of ignorance. B-