Reviewed on 2009 January 24
Very powerful fact-based movie about Jews hiding in the Belarussian forest to escape the Nazis, and the uneasy wartime alliance some of them formed with the Russian soldiers. Not as much of a kick in the stomach as Schindler’s List, but it still pummeled the audience into complete silence during its 137-minute run time. I’ve heard that it’s pretty liberal with the facts, and I regret I didn’t read the books about this yet.
The Bielski brothers are reeling from the horrors of war and the deaths in their family. Zus (Leiv Schreiber) is furious, Asael (Jamie Bell) is overcome with grief, and the youngest brother, Aaron (George MacKay) is in shock. They meet their oldest brother Tuvia (Daniel Craig) a bit later, and we see the tension (and love) between Zus and Tuvia right away. Zus wants to go out and crack as many Nazi and collaborator skulls as he can; Tuvia is more idealistic. His idea of vengeance is to just live. Several other Jews that escaped the ghettos join them, and the two elder Bielskis wonder how they’re going to feed everybody.
Tuvia decides to take charge, not necessarily because of ego but because somebody has to do something, and everyone is given a task. Everyone in the camp must work if they’re to survive, and Tuvia works along with them. Zus is rankled by the way his older brother takes over, though it’s not any fun for Tuvia — I’m sure many days Tuvia thought if he heard “What do we do now?” one more time he’d lose it — and he tries a different approach. He learns of a Russian soldier camp also hidden in the woods, and while this group isn’t ideal for the Jews to deal with, their loathing of the Nazis eclipses their anti-Semitism, and Zus fights with them.
There were parts of this that seemed to slow down a bit, but it’s still a good movie, and to be fair part of the reason I noticed the run time was because I had to sit towards the front of the theater and crane my neck. It was worth it, and I plan on getting the DVD as well. I think the most telling thing I can say about it was that I didn’t hear a sound in the theater once it got going. There was no sub-par acting, but Schreiber and Craig really stood out.
Three chocolate morsels.