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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Schindler's List (1993)



Reviews and Comments

Spielberg had long been a grossly underrated director, but after directing Schindler's List, a brilliant masterpiece fully deserving of a place in any list of the greatest motion pictures ever made, it is folly to dismiss his talents. Schindler's List is one of the most moving, terrifying, thought-provoking accounts of the holocaust ever put to celluloid and a great (and, dare I say it, perfect) work of art to boot. Liam Neeson plays the title character and deserved the acting Oscar he was nominated for but didn't win. Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes sparkle in supporting roles. Spielberg's directing (which did win an Oscar) is profound in its impact. He euphemizes no horror, showing fully and plainly the brutality of the Jews' slaughter -- while at the same time, knows when less is more (a restraint precious few modern filmmakers understand). Who can forget the spectacular scene where the Nazi Goeth shoots a Jew from his window -- while the camera lingers on a man who must casually, indifferently walk by? Yet as revoltingly as the holocaust is shown, Spielberg dodges the pitfall of accentuating it via stylish contrivances and manipulation. He presents the violence of the holocaust and makes no comment; none is needed, and any would be paltry and ineffectual. And as nihilistic as a blunt representation of the holocaust might have been, the story of Schindler's List reminds us that there is hope; that sometimes the actions of one person -- one ordinary person even, for Oskar Schindler is not the stereotypical altruistic hero -- can make a difference, even in the face of mass apathy and evil. The film is shot in black and white; that suggestion must have received severe opposition from studio executives, but the decision is inarguable; the medium allows for some stark contrasts and shadows almost necessary to create the appropriate mood. In addition, it allowed Spielberg to make some innovative uses of sporadic color, including one in particular which helps to show that while the holocaust was a wide-scale tragedy, it happened to individuals, not merely some distant population. The three main characters -- those of Neeson, Kingsley, and Fiennes -- are superbly depicted. As Roger Ebert stated in his review of the film, it is a credit that the reason Oskar Schindler (a greedy, selfish man who wears the Nazi emblem with pride) ultimately came to perform the saving acts of compassion and bravery that he did is left unexplained -- for such an answer could only trivialize the question. Kingsley's character, Itzhak Stern, a Jew in Schindler's employ, is a worker dedicated to his job even though his employer is a Nazi. The relationship that develops between Schindler and Stern is profound in its understatement. Fiennes' Goeth is chilling, in part due to his performance, but mostly due to the harsh reality that the Nazis really must have had his morbidly apathetic disregard for human life for the holocaust to have ever happened. There are few films that literally everyone really should see. Schindler's List is one. No one will come away from this film quite the same.