by Rick Grant
A / Rated R / 137 min
This film, written and directed by wunderkind filmmaker, Edward Zwick, uses Daniel Craig’s full potential as a versatile actor. His rugged physique and confident demeanor leaves no doubt that his character, Tuvia Bielski is the leader of a group of Jewish rebels. They escaped the ghetto to hide out in the vast Belarussian forest in Nazi occupied Poland. The rebels steal arms and food, working in concert with the Russian Army to ambush Nazi patrols.
The forest partisans set up camp with log buildings and maintain a viable functioning community in which the men take forest wives and go out on recon patrols, scouting Nazi positions. Tuvia pledged to protect the forest partisans but he insisted that everyone must work and carry firearms, even the women. His brother Zus Bielski (Liev Schreiber) challenges Tuvia leadership and the two argue and fight. Tuvia feels a strong moral responsibility for keeping the Jews alive under his command. In contrast, Zus is bitter and seeks revenge.
Zwick’s skillful balancing of the drama and action sequences keeps the film edgy and exciting. The Jewish forest rebels were a harbinger of the future when the Jews were given their own homeland and immediately had to defend it.
During the Holocaust years, Jews did not fight. They depended on God to save them. But as Tuvia and his forest warriors learned, Jews must fight for their right to exist. In modern Israel, never again would Jews be packed in train cars like cattle and sent to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps. Now, Israel is surrounded by enemies and every young person is drafted into the military to fight for the Jewish homeland. Israel is a heavily armed military base.
As Zwick has done in his other movies like The Last Samurai, he uses this historical event and realistically paints it with creative cinematic tones and action. In this case, tones of gray and brown against the noble forest of tall trees and bush. The characters are justifiably dirty and exhausted by the Spartan accommodations of the forest camp.
Life goes on for the armed rebels. A baby is born, which was forbidden by Tuvia, but he had to change his rules. Rebels were paring off and getting married-babies would inevitably be born. Men and women fought together which served as an model for the future Israeli citizen army. After the rebels pulled off major ambushes on Nazi convoys, the Third Reich headquarters learned of the rebel camp and scout airplanes searched for their location. This prompted Tuvia to make the camp more mobile as attacks from the air happened more frequently.
For the rebels, food and medicine were in short supply, making the living situation miserable especially when the harsh winter closed-in. But the war outside the forest raged on. Tuvia and Zus raided an aid station to steal medicine. The two weary warriors were involved in a vicious firefight. Zus was wounded and Tuvia was sick with typhus.
History tells us that Tuvia and Zus eventually came back to the forest rebels and lived there for four years. After the war, they immigrated to America and established a trucking company.
This great adventure in the forest would forever be an inspiring Jewish tale of courage and the group’s willingness to fight and die for the cause. The Jewish forest rebels learned that it’s better to go down fighting than acting like sheep being led to the slaughter.
Zwick’s grandiose take on this little known historic wartime story is both exciting and adrenalin pumping cinema that shows how resilient people can be when they are faced with extermination.
by Rick Grant