Over ten years ago, when Writer/Producer/Director Edward Zwick ("Legends of the Fall," "Shakespeare in Love" and "Traffic") spotted an obituary in a New York area newspaper, something about it made him curious. Upon further investigation, he discovered that the deceased, an immigrant named Tuvia Bielski, was indeed the unsung hero of a hitherto unknown WWII saga, the leader of a small cadre of Jews who fled from Nazi-occupied Poland deep into the Belarussian forest, where they eventually accumulated a community of over a thousand fellow fugitives. In addition, two of Bielski's brothers, Zus and Asael, along with other brave refugees, assisted Russian troops in their fight against a common enemy, the Nazis. The fourth Bielski brother, Aron, was just a child when he fled with his brothers.

In a post-screening discussion on December 1st, 2008, Zwick remarked that he had, as a lad, always been slightly embarrassed by the passivity of the Jews as they were herded into cattle cars and transported to concentration camps and gas chambers. As he explored Bielski's story, he discovered that he had grown up with the Hollywood version of the Holocaust. In addition, the Russians, whom the Jews had helped, failed to credit them when it was time to write their own version of WWII history. Zwick was gratified to discover that there had been active Resistance groups in every Jewish enclave throughout Europe. Some were more successful than others, but in every instance, there were fierce fighters who did not go passively.

Zweck collaborated with other screenwriters to develop a script, then approached Daniel Craig to play Tuvia. Craig was delighted and signed immediately. The studio was not enthused about using an actor who was capable enough, but not very well known (this is pre-"Casino Royale"). Now, with the advent of a new James Bond, that situation has changed, but to the studio's delight, Craig still honored his commitment.

Because many of the actors in this film, shot in Estonia, are not known to us, I'll just talk about the four Bielskis:

  • Daniel Craig ("Infamous" and "Quantum of Solace") is Tuvia, a quietly inspiring leader. He is desperate, sick, hungry, and sometimes overwhelmed by the responsibilities thrust upon him...and he DOES have a "Spartacus" moment! (Kirk Douglas was sent a copy of the film and he agreed that he would have played Tuvia!)
  • Liev Schreiber ("The Painted Veil" and "The Manchurian Candidate" - 2004) is the more volatile Zus, angry and militant, with a hair-trigger temper set off by anti-Semitism.
  • Jamie Bell ("Billy Elliot" and "Nicholas Nickleby") is Asael, who has to grow up very quickly. He takes his family's responsibilities seriously and finds the strength and maturity to rise to the challenge.
  • George MacKay ("The Thief Lord" and lots of television work) is the youngest brother, who provides a face and a name which, to us, represents the resourceful women and sturdy children in the group.

This is an excellent ANTI-Holocaust film, which shows us that Truth is far more gripping than Fiction! And be sure to stay for the wrap-up because it tells us the “Rest of the Story” about all four brothers.