A lot of the time, watching a movie, we recoil or start at something in it: That's fake, we say, and dismiss the whole film. On many occasions, that impulse is correct because the film is fake, but on rare occasions, we feel that sensation of dislocated wrongness not because the film is fake but because our world is; we can't wrap our heads around the facts and ugly truths of what we see, can't comprehend how such things are possible, and recoil from them out of refusal to believe, not because they aren't believable. This is one of the challenges Defiance, the newest drama from Edward Zwick (Glory, Blood Diamond) faces as it tells the true story of the Bielski brothers, three Belorussian Jews and outlaw petty criminals who, during World War II's pogroms and purges, protected hundreds of Jews from the Nazis, some surviving and others actively fighting back.
We witness Tuvia Bielski (Daniel Craig) make the decision to kill his horse so it can be eaten, and we cannot imagine such hunger. We watch Zus Bielski (Liev Schrieber) fight alongside Russians who hate him to stop Germans who hate him, and we cannot imagine such a grim choice. We watch Asael Bielski (Jamie Bell) fall in love, or a quick quip between two supporting characters, and we cannot imagine love, or laughter, in such a place. But there must have been such hunger; there must have been such anger; there must have been laughter, and love, in the years of exile. It's hard to imagine, but that doesn't mean it's not true.