A Good Old Fashioned War Film, 14 January 2009

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It would be easy to pick holes in this picture. Based upon a true story, it tells the tale of the Bielski brothers who flee WW Two German persecution in Belarussia to take refuge in the forests. There is so much to draw upon, that it is inevitable that some issues are shown in shorthand, some glossed over, and some ignored altogether. But as a straight forwards Action/Adventure story, it succeeds admirably.

Daniel Craig dominates the film as Tuvia Bielski and does a fine job. Stoic, rugged and with a passable local accent, he carries off portraying the dilemmas of his role as leader, and that of Action Hero, with some aplomb. Inevitably there are times when things teeter on the brink of a Sherwood forest, “Robin Hood” ,pastiche, and the tone and violin playing veer into, “Schindlers List”, territory. But the essence of events; ordinary, disparate, diverse people with a common bond as Jews being forced to flee Genocide by living a subsistence existence in the wild forests is well told.

Intriguingly, the ethics and morality of their position bedevils them in the same way that the contemporary Gaza Crisis bedevils modern day Israel. Tuvia slays the Policeman and sons who killed his family in cold blood, but opts for a survival strategy for his camp rather than that of raiding outpost. On one occasion they spare the lives of an informant and Policemen who stumble across their camp, compromising its existence rather than indulging in further slaughter. Yet later captured Germans are beaten to death by an exhausted and embittered camp.

His brother Zus leaves with some others to join Soviet Partisans to follow a more aggressive Resistance. Fascinating sub- texts are flirted with; the anti-Semitism of the Soviet Partisans themselves, the hopeless position of villagers pressed by the Germans, Partisans AND Bielski, the “forest wives” morality of the refugees versus a “no-babies” policy, the class –conflicts within the refugees themselves and the invidious position of the local Police Force.

The beautiful forest, and noble cause of the Jews creates a Romantic air about the film where on the whole heroism and good triumph, and the Nazis and their sympathisers are shot. As is customary in the genre, women are for decoration only. Gritty realism and the raw underbelly of what life must really have been like understandably take a back seat. Yet this does not diminish the tale, and taken at face value, it is a compelling 137 minutes of cinema.

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