Reviews for December 31st, 2008
Directed by Edward Zwick.
In English and Russian with subtitles. Based on a true story and on the book by Nechama Tec. In 1941, during World War II, three Jewish brothers, Tuvia Bielski (Daniel Craig), Zus (Liev Shreiber) and Asael (Jamie Bell) from Belorussia, head off into the forest on a survival mission that involves saving the lives of other Jews and killing Nazis or anyone else who poses as an obstacle for them. Tuvia initially witnesses the murder of his family and, in a particularly intense scene exacts revenge upon the police chief who murdered his father. He also kills the chiefís family members. Itís interesting to observe the dynamic between Tuvia and Zus as both of them have different ideas of how they want to lead the group of Jews through the woods. Tuvia prefers to avoid killing others while Zus wants to use more violence and aggression. As the film progresses, Tuvia becomes more and more like a heroic figure with a good heart and doesnít give up so easily through hardships as he leads the groups of Jews through different hardships. Between all of the action sequences, the moments of drama as the Bielski brothers interact with other Jews in the group feels a bit bland and forced. None of the characters truly stands out except for Zus whoís quite vocal about his disagreements with Tuvia throughout their journey. In a poorly developed subplot, Asael has his eye on a young woman in the group and attempts to romance her. Co-writer/director Edward Zwick keeps you mildly compelled during two hours and sixteen-minute running time thanks to a well-chosen musical score and exquisite cinematography thatís filled with appropriately grim colors. At times, youíll feel like youíre watching a black-and-white film---perhaps Zwick should have filmed it all in black-and-white, actually. The performances across the board are pretty decent. h Liev Schreiber delivers the strongest performance here while Daniel Craig sinks into the role of Tuvia with ease and impresses with a Russian accent so much that youíll forget that heís the actor plays the new James Bond. If only it were to have an organic, sensitive screenplay that paid closer attention to its characters and focused more on their thoughts and feelings throughout their intense experiences, Defiance would have been a much more powerful and engrossing film. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by Paramount Vantage. Opens at the Ziegfeld Theater.
Directed by Vicente Amorim.
Based on the play by C.P. Taylor. In 1930ís Germany, John Halder (Viggo Mortensen), a University professor of literature, doesnít want to join the Nazi party even when the Nazis summon him after reading and enjoying a book that he had written. His father-in-law, Theodor Brunau (Ralph Riach) and department, head Mandelstam (David de Keyser), have already become members of the Nazi Party. As he gets agrees to cooperate with the Partyís requests to help them out, which increases salary and reputation when he work for them as a writer of propaganda material, he doesnít seem really comfortable by all of those decisions and gets distracted by other situations in his life. For example, he has a wife, Helen (Anastasia Hille), who suffers from mental instability and behaves erratically, while he also has to deal with his senile mother (Gemma Jones). In a rather contrived subplot, he has an affair with a seductive student, Anne Hartmann (Jodie Whittaker). The film would have been much more compelling had screenwriter John Wrathall fleshed out the friendship between John and his Jewish friend Maurice Israel Gluckstein (Jason Isaacs) more. Instead, he mainly focuses on John as he gets involved in the Nazi Party, but none of the characters truly come-to-life so that you care what happens to them. Moreover, Wrathall doesnít provide much insight into what goes on inside Johnís head. You can sense that the John has complex emotions, some of which are repressed, thanks to Viggo Mortensenís sensitive performance, but those emotions never really rise to the surface until the seemingly tacked-on ending. Until then, though, thereís no real palpable tension to propel the drama because much of it merely feels contrived and by-the-numbers. Director Vincent Amorim keeps the film moving at a brisk pace which, at times, feels a bit too rushed without delving into Johnís relationships with others enough. On a positive note, the cinematography looks great along with the authentic costume and set designs of the period. Good has solid performances, but it has a hollow emotional core and, ultimately, lacks any enough insights and suspense to keep you truly intrigued. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Released by THINKfilm. Opens at the Village East Cinemas.