Thursday, January 22, 2009


War drama
Based on a true story
Some dialogue in Russian and Polish with English subtitles.

On August 23, 1939 the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany. On September 1, 1939 the Germans invaded Poland from the west and two weeks later the Red Army invaded from the east. The Soviet government annexed the territory and declared that the 13 million Polish living there were now Soviet citizens of the newly expanded Belorussia.

Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union that commenced on June 22, 1941. Over 4 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR including newly occupied territories along a 1,800 mile front. Within days the 2nd Panzer group met its principal objective, the taking of Minsk, the capital city of Belorussia. The Nazis immediately implemented their genocidal policies.

Liev Schreiber: Alexander Zisel "Zus” Bielski
Jamie Bell: his younger brother Asael
Daniel Craig: their older brother 35-year-old Tuvia
Mia Wasikowska: one of the refugees 20-something-year-old Chaya
Alexa Davalos: Lilka, another camp refugee

By choosing a dramatic beginning rather than a more prosaic approach it takes some time to figure out what is going on unless you are very familiar with World War II history (or get to read the Background notes above). A brief on-screen one-liner indicating the name of the forest area is totally inadequate. Unless it is a well-known historical event the producers need to set the scene, to give us the big picture so we can then appreciate what is going on.

The second problem is a question of running time: it does not require 2 hours and 17 minutes to tell this story. A big chunk of time is spent showing the repetitive process of having to relocate from one area to another, setting up a new camp, getting settled in then starting the process over. Once is enough.

It’s too bad because it is a story worth telling. The acting is uniformly excellent and the overall look of the movie convincing enough.

for violence and brief language.

• To deal with the outbreak of typhus a small group sets out to find some Ampicillin. Trouble is this drug was not developed until 1961, some 20 years after these events took place.
• As Tuvia and Isaac emerge from the forest the turret of the German tank begins turning towards them. After a brief shot of their reaction the scene shifts again to the tank only to show that the turret has reverted to the starting position and once more begins to traverse in the direction of its target.

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