Friday, January 16, 2009


Daniel Craig is back but it is not as a James Bond hero but as a regular man tossed into a whirlwind of struggle and calamitous misfortune. I am not sure really where this movie takes place, in Poland or Germany. Most of it take's place in the woods, retreating and hiding from the Germans.

Craig plays Tuvia Bielski who is a brother who is forced to become a leader. He has the strength, health, and wherewithal to be that leader. He chose to only live by himself he would be considered a failure. When the Germans first started to round up Jews for systematic slaughter and deportation into work camps, or both, he hid out and escaped.

Liev Schreiber who has played in many movies, like The Sum of All Fears and The Manchurian Candidate, excells in another film. Craig's name may be larger now than Schreiber's but the latter has been on the big stage longer. Both are brother's in this wonderful tale which is based on a true story. Jamie Bell is the third brother, the youngest, who can barely hold it together when the Germans first begin to murder Jews. By the end of the film, he a motivational and energetic leader who enables the large Jewish contigent to successfully evade the Germans.

The Bielski brothers soon become locally famous since they the leaders of this group. I would not say they were are a resistance because they are not seeking this, they are merely seeking survival and escape. Apparently, the Jews have been labeled weaklings by the Russians and others for not fighting. More on this later.

The movie is frought with struggle, strife, and accomplishment. The hiding brothers soon take in more fleeing Jews who are not that able bodied but do not want to be mistreated by the Germans all of the same. They are not sure what to do, nor which direction to go.

The movie does mix in some humor. It is well balanced and I think the subtitles are fine because they are not completely through. Tossing in the other languages reminds us Americans that this is not nearby and the language difference is just the beginning. The Russian, Jewish, and German language are necessary for accuracy and to instill in the audience who these people really are. Cultural differences are spoken about and depicted in this excellent film. There is allot of killing but that is the nature of this brutal time.

An internal struggle erupts in the first half of the film with the Bielski brothers. Tuvia and Zus have different ideas on how things should done. Tuvia is more a social savior, he wants to take in as many Jews as he can and support and feed them. Zus disagrees with him for many reasons. He believes the more people they absorb, the easier it is for the Germans to find them. Which is true. Zus also is not inclined to help many of these Jews since allot of them are from the wealthy class in Jewish society and would not lift a finger to help them just months prior. Would not allow their daughters to even look at them, and so forth. This leads to a public fist fight, Zus, the largest, middle brother and Tuvia fight it out. Zus is tired of attracting the masses, he does not want to be a civic leader, he wants to seek revenge and be surrounded by people with this same notion. He wants to have a lighter, more fluid group of people. Whereas, Tuvia is apt to attract the masses. Tuvia wins the hand to hand conflict but loses his brother. Zus storms off, but in control, and announces his intentions and asks for those wanting to fight the Germans to come with him. Many younger males, not wanting to hide out in the cold forest for an unknown amount of time, leave with him.

Zus and his Jewish loyalists kill some Germans in a series of small hits at checkposts and what not. After this, Zus meets up with a lost Russian outfit that is also hiding out in the forest. By this time, the Bielski name is widely known, even by the Russian leader. The Russian soldiers, or this small brigade, are attacking the Germans in small confrontations when the time is right. Eventually the Russians take off and the brothers reunite when Tuvia and the other Jews are in dire straights with some attacking and approaching Germans. The Germans sent a tank this time and this after an air attack on their small forest shelters.

Their was some happy moments when the youngest Bielski brother married a cute Jewish girl. The Jewish wedding traditions are shown here. The movie never did show any hunting scenes, like for deer and other meat. An attacking dog was killed in one frightening scene, and they were growing potatoes since a large amount of potatoes were shown once or twice in the movie. The brothers settled the group near a water stream since having a constantly fresh water supply is obviously important.

In one scene, a Jewish lady is bathing in the stream and says she is getting too skinny and she jokes with some friends that when she returns to society she will eat nothing but cakes to fatten up. I guess she does not understand that fat is ugly and unhealthy. I understand it is a different culture though.

The movie was well spread out. The ending was suspenseful and Tuvia finally breaks down at the end. He has had to make so many life saving and balancing decisions, their dilemma after the German bombing attack and where to go, just overwhelms him. His psyche is about to give way when the youngest brother steps forth and leads them through these swamps.

The movie has a pleasant ending. Apparently, 1200 Jews live in the forest for for a couple of years and build a small town out of the forest. Hard work and perseverance is the centerpoint here.

Good characters, well casted, intense action, realistic scenes, creatively written, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It is more entertaining that Schindler's list but it does not have the big time director that that movie had. It could win some awards though. Interesting to see Craig not as the super human, imposing, and totally confident James Bond but as a solid man nevertheless thrust into this human made carnage.

I would allocate this movie four stars.****

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