It's got a solid cast and three or four powerful scenes, but in the uncertain hands of director Edward Zwick ("Blood Diamond"), this promising premise is turned into basically an overgrown TV movie.
There's mechanical plotting, war-movie cliches and pedestrian dialogue (credited to Zwick and Clayton Frohman).
Daniel Craig takes time out from James Bonding to play Tuvia, the oldest brother, who may or may not be a smuggler when his parents are murdered by the local police chief under orders from the Nazis.
Tuvia and his brothers - the hotheaded Zus (Liev Schreiber) and the much younger Asael (Jamie Bell) - extract swift revenge, but Tuvia balks at wholesale attack on the Nazis even as Zus amasses a cache of arms.
"Our revenge is to live," declares Tuvia as he and his brothers are followed by a growing number of refugees. They finally begin building a settlement in the woods.
One of the movie's big problems is that aside from the brothers, none of the characters are more than overly familiar archetypes.
Craig is effective as Tuvia, who is depicted as something of a World War II Moses, at one point leading his charges through a swamp after the Nazis discover their first hiding place.
Schreiber gives perhaps his most physical - and, in some ways, most impressive - screen performance to date as the vengeful Zus, but Bell ends up getting stuck in a romantic subplot.
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. Though the poster image may indicate a film geared more toward a physical act of defiance rather than a philosophical one, anyone walking into Defiance in search of some cathartic, Nazi ass-kicking action will be sorely disappointed. It turns out co-screenwriters Clayton Frohman and Edward Zwick (who also directed) are more interested in using the scenario to explore man's inhumanity to man and the ways that war simultaneously brings out both the worst and the best in our unpredictable little species rather than following a group of machine-gun-toting Jews as they decimate Hitler's ranks.