Metascore
58

Mixed or average reviews - based on 34 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 18 out of 34
  2. Negative: 0 out of 34
  1. 63
    The best performance, because it's more nuanced, is by Liev Schreiber. His Zus Bielski is more concerned with the big picture, more ideological, more driven by tactics.
  2. 75
    The battle scenes are well choreographed and contain enough uncertainty to make them genuinely exciting, but one would expect no less from a man who has overseen Civil War engagements (Glory) and Japanese strife (The Last Samurai).
  3. 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.
  4. 63
    This promising premise is turned into basically an overgrown TV movie.
  5. 63
    For all the film's flaws, this is a war story told with passion about a band of brothers that still has the power to inspire.
  6. As a drama - an epic drama, no less, clocking in at 137 minutes - its fascination is diffused, and the movie becomes something of a long slog.
  7. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    50
    Depressingly predictable in its dialogue and dramatic beats, Defiance is most interesting as a study of unlikely leaders.
  8. Defiance has some genuine strengths but also some weaker elements, and these opposing traits battle it out kind of the way the contentious Bielskis fought not only the Germans but each other.
  9. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    63
    The tale of the resistance movement in Belorussia is undeniably inspiring and ideally suited for a cinematic rendering. But Defiance resists bold, passionate storytelling and delivers something rather conventional.
  10. It's a heroic story, and Zwick frames it rather too strenuously as an antidote to the generic Holocaust stories of Jewish passivity and martyrdom. And yet, as a piece of historical redress, a great service has been done in bringing this narrative to the screen.
  11. 50
    Defiance presents itself as an explicit correction of the cultural record, a counterpoint to all those lachrymose World War II tales of helplessness and victimhood. This is a perfectly honorable intention, but the problem is that, in setting out to overturn historical stereotypes of Jewish passivity, Mr. Zwick (who co-wrote the screenplay with Clayton Frohman) ends up affirming them.
  12. The film should've aimed higher, given all that these people endured to have their story told.
  13. Reviewed by: Todd McCarthy
    50
    A potentially exceptional story is told in a flatly unexceptional manner.
  14. Here, Jews are not victims of genocide, but victors in the organized resistance against it.
  15. What is puzzling is how Edward Zwick has taken an extraordinary real-life story about a handful of people who defied huge odds, and turned it into an utterly conventional war movie.
  16. It's an exciting action spectacle and a thoughtful, cumulatively moving family drama.
  17. Craig, far from James Bond but still swaggering, makes a leathery, craggy commander, and Schreiber - who'll show his full-on action chops this summer in the Hugh Jackman "Wolverine" movie - is tough but sullen. Yet all this old-style moviemaking doesn't always pay off.
  18. 70
    It's impossible to watch Defiance without experiencing a vicarious thrill of resistance and revenge.
  19. 50
    The movie leaves you in an awful tangle of amazement and disbelief: Amazement that Tuvia Bielski did turn a group of civilians into a nimble fighting force and a commune that could defend itself, but disbelief at his accomplishment's stagey and banal rendering.
  20. 50
    There are lots of movies about Jews suffering, dying, and surviving in Europe during World War II, but precious few about Jews fighting back. So why does everything in Defiance feel so doggedly familiar?
  21. 60
    Defiance comes off as plodding and workmanlike -- and even in the midst of Zwick's too-careful machinations, it's a movie that's unsure of what it wants to be.
  22. Reviewed by: Richard Corliss
    70
    Defiance says that it took grit, desperation and courage under fire to say, "Not this time," and fire back. Beyond that, it's a pretty good movie -- a bold, uneasy mix of romance, political debate and vigorous action.
  23. 75
    The film isn't much of a character study; too many of its secondary characters are stereotypes, and it never fully engages our emotions the way "Schindler's List" or "The Pianist" did.
  24. 75
    Remarkable, unheralded story.
  25. 70
    Defiance, as it turns out, makes insistent emotional demands, and those who respond to it at all, as I did, are likely to go all the way and even come out of it feeling slightly stunned.
  26. That butting of heads, as performed by actors as strong and soulful as Craig and Schreiber, lends Defiance an emotional charge, even as the film itself struggles dramatically to find its way out of those woods.
  27. Zwick, intent on correcting the perception of Jews as passive victims, lets the action set pieces overwhelm the more intimate scenes, several of which are already diminished by stilted dialogue.
  28. Reviewed by: Bob Mondello
    60
    It's an inspiring story, if one that doesn't need quite as much poetic inspiration as Ed Zwick's movie insists on giving it, with dialogue that's too often ornate and parable-inflected.
  29. Reviewed by: Gene Newman
    88
    The perfect antidote to the post-holiday blues. It's exciting, well-acted, touching, and genuine.
  30. Reviewed by: Jason Buchanan
    63
    A Holocaust film that's light on sentimentality but high on human drama, Defiance tells one of those remarkable survival stories that's so incredible it must be true.
  31. Reviewed by: Nev Pierce
    60
    An amazing true tale is somewhat diminished by second-hand storytelling: entirely admirable, largely entertaining, and yet curiously hollow.
  32. Reviewed by: Matthew Sorrento
    50
    A little sentimentality can fuel a lot of action, yet Zwick buries his film in cloying guilt, in the end sinking Defiance with the holocaust film's bait.
  33. Reviewed by: Josh Rosenblatt
    67
    Zwick may be the definition of a modern blockbuster filmmaker, but he's also spent his entire career struggling to find the balance between opposing impulses – the sentimentalist's desire for emotional-historical heft and the artist's fascination with conflicted humanity – a struggle that's all over Defiance.
  34. Reviewed by: Ella Taylor
    60
    There are subtitles and vaguely East European accents; there is romance and rebirth, tears and regular pauses for gallows humor (at which we Jews are known to be very good, on account of our long history of persecution).
User Score
5.7

Mixed or average reviews- based on 140 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 31 out of 45
  2. Negative: 8 out of 45
  1. Sep 27, 2011
    7
    I don't understand the decent reviews. Daniel Craig gives his best in "Defiance", as well as Edward Zwick. He realistically potrays the horror and advesities the jews had to suffer. Despite the tedious pace, "Defiance" is still a great movie you will want to watch. Full Review »
  2. Jul 20, 2014
    4
    Defiance: 4 out of 10: I have a soft spot for director Edward Zwick. I have a real soft spot for his Blood Diamond flick despite its pedestrian script and subconscious racism. In addition, The Last Samurai is another film of his that I loved despite its historical inaccuracies and bizarre lead casting. Defiance shares many of the same endemic faults that plagued those two films. I was not able to brush the faults off this time; I found them even more discordant as the film went on.

    Problem number one is Daniel Craig. He does not look like an Eastern Polish Jew. He looks like he misplaced his Oberstleutnant uniform at the Wehrmacht’s cleaners. Even if you were able to accept Daniel Craig as some sort of Paul Newman style Jew who parachuted into Eastern Europe, only Helen Keller would buy him as Lev Schreiber’s brother. A mutant dancing Australian is a more believable brother for Schreiber than Craig is.

    In fact, Craig and Schreiber seem to be in two different films and Schreiber is in the much better one. Schreiber seems to be in the here and now with a strong subtle performance that is the best thing in the film. Daniel Craig’s performance is as shaky as his accent. He, of course, is forced to do things like give Braveheart speeches from the back of a white horse, so the fault is hardly his alone. And saying platitudes such as “Our vengeance is to live" and "Every day of freedom is like an act of faith" while gazing at the camera with those, just give me an Oscar and I will go back to entertaining you, baby blues doesn't help his cause either.

    Problem number Two is best summarized by one of my favorite ladies I don't think we really need another film about the Holocaust, do we? It is like, how many have there been, you know. We get it. It was grim. Move on. No, I am doing it because I have noticed that if you do a film about the Holocaust you are guaranteed an Oscar ... That is why I am doing it. Schindler's bloody List. The Pianist. Oscars coming out of their arse.

    — Kate Winslet (Winner of the 2008 Best Actress Oscar for Holocaust drama The Reader) in Extras, 2005

    Defiance is clearly Oscar bait. In one scene Daniel “Moses” Craig leads his people through the reeds and swamps and away from the forest (and inexplicably away from decent cover and fortifications) until a Rabbi collapses, sputters out "I almost lost my faith but you were sent by God to save us” and then promptly dies... oy vey. It really is not that easy to make a mainstream Holocaust film, release it in December, and get no nominations* for Golden Globes or Oscars. Defiance is clearly trying too hard.

    The third problem is that a third rate cast of Fiddler on the Roof somehow showed up lost in the woods. Somebody call the Jewish stereotype prison, cause there has been a mass escape. Everyone is here. The nebbish intellectual who cannot hammer a nail, the passive Jews who are unwilling to fight, the greedy Jew more interested in money than his fellow man. Good lord, it is as if Leni Reisenthal’s travelling troop of stereotypes showed up. Thank goodness, Daniel Craig is here to straighten them all out and lead them to the Promised Land. Yup blond blue eyed Daniel Craig…. Yeah the movie has issues.

    *No nominations except, inexplicably, for its score; which at two hours of crying violins will test any ones nerves.
    Full Review »
  3. Aug 2, 2013
    3
    Neither smart, nor bright sci-fi that has poor characters, bad screenplay, cheap effects and stupid dialogs. Recommended only if there's nothing else to see (which is unlikely to happen). Full Review »