SCHINDLER'S LIST

(1993)
With Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Embeth Davidtz, Caroline Goodall, Jonathan Sagall, Malgoscha Gebel, Shmuel Levy, Mark Ivanir

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Review by JB

     In 1993, Steven Spielberg released two films that were tonal and stylistic opposites: JURASSIC PARK and and SCHINDLER'S LIST.  JURASSIC PARK was aimed at the mass audience.  It was an amusement park thrill ride captured on film, full of cardboard protaganists and eye-popping special effects.  It was JAWS without the depth of characters.  JURASSIC PARK  had only one purpose - to make audiences scream - and it fulfilled that purpose perfectly.  It was Spielberg hitting us over the head with what was by now all his usual tricks, especially the John Williams score that swelled at all the right moments and the patented "Spielberg closeup" as characters on screen are shown reacting to something wonderful, horrible or unbelievable, almost always something created by the special effects department.  It was, and still is, one of the great all-time popcorn movies.

     SCHINDLER'S LIST hardly feels like a Spielberg film at all.  Spielberg himself didn't think he was qualified to film the story, and shopped it around to other directors such as Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski and even Billy Wilder.  Determined to approach the story without any crutches, Spielberg purposely rid himself of most of his usual filmmaking techniques.  From the man who made some of the most colorful films of all time comes a stark black and white epic.  Nearly half the film was shot with thatmost un-Hollywood, un-Spielberg storytelling device,  the hand-held camera.  Rather than the usual bombastic Williams score, we get a sad violin theme played by Itzak Perlman, and Jewish folk songs.  Although the film is filled with horrors, we never get that sweeping, dolly-in closeup that has marked Spielberg's work since JAWS.  SCHINDLER'S LIST forced Spielberg to become a filmmaker once again rather than a moviemaker. 

     The tale of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman and member of the Nazi party who used his cunning, personality, charm and wits to save over 1000 Polish Jews from the horrors of the Holocaust, SCHINDLER'S LIST is Spielberg's greatest film.  Schindler, as portrayed by Liam Neeson, is shown at the beginning to be a crafty businessman, using the War to line his pockets with cash by buying an abandoned metal works factory and essentially using Jews as slave labor to cut down on his overhead.  He is a charmer, a schemer, a self-promoter and a schmoozer.  Yet little by little, he realizes the plight of his own workers under the Nazi regime, and realizes that his having Jews classified as "essential workers" is actually saving them from almost certain death.  As he amasses his great fortune, he begins spending it bribing officals and guards to save even more lives.  

     There are those who criticize SCHINDLER'S LIST for being a whitewash of the Holocaust, an exploitation of a tragedy for personal gain and a Hollywoodization of one of history's darkest moments.  I feel sorry for these people.  Yes, there are emotionally manipulative moments and yes, other groups beside Jews were persecuted under the Nazis.  All this criticism reminds me of Spike Lee's rants against Clint Eastwood recent World War II films FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS and LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA.  You don't like the story someone is telling?  Go tell your own (which, to his credit, Lee did with MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA). 

     I could tell you more about SCHINDLER'S LIST, but my telling could not do justice to the film, so I will just say: if you haven't seen it, see it.  It is one of the finest films of the 20th Century. 5 - JB

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