Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Embeth Davidtz
"Schindler's List" Review
There are films, admittedly few, that transcend themselves. In fact, they transcend even the art of filmmaking. Sometimes, these films are simply grand on a scale not before seen...films such as "Titanic" and "LOTR" may well qualify here...other times, these films achieve such utter perfection that they simply take on a life of their own...still other times, the films become a symbol of the times. These are the films that make the perfect statement at the perfect time in life. Finally, there are films such as "Schindler's List." Films such as these, perhaps the most rare of all, are films that touch the soul of all humanity with a universal truth that is so profound and so vividly presented that it becomes an icon unto itself. "Schindler's List" is, indeed, an icon of American cinema.
Steven Spielberg's 1993 story of Oskar Schindler, a man whose greed, vanity and self-indulgence is somehow transformed during the Nazi Holocaust into a self-sacrificing, humanitarian existence saving the lives of 1100 Jews from the Auschwitz death camp, is a powerful, deeply insightful, brutally honest and constantly moving film that transcends itself by bringing to light with great clarity one of the most troubling times in global history.
"Schindler's List" is not necessarily a comfortable film to watch and I dare say the casual filmgoer might not rate it highly. It is not, to the casual eye, an entertaining film. Only the filmgoer who is well versed in cinema and dedicated to the mastery of filmmaking will most likely consider this film entertaining, though many others will still appreciate it.
There are, quite simply, films that are not meant to entertain. They are not designed for our pleasure, but for much grander purposes. "Schindler's List" is a challenging film but a deeply healing one.
Virtually every aspect of "Schindler's List" achieves perfection from performances to production quality to script to direction. It would be most challenging to find a film that achieves such balanced perfection.
As Oskar Schindler, Liam Neeson presents a multi-faceted performance of great depth with a unique balance of self-indulgence and self-sacrifice, shallow materialism with generous offering. Neeson offers a Schindler who is confident yet often indecisive. What makes this performance remarkable is its pacing...So often, in these humanity films we get a "superhero" approach or a man who suddenly and immediately transforms into Mr. Wonderful. Schindler's transformation here is a quieter, more subtle transition that allows the audience to watch him change...watch him struggle with this change. It's a remarkable, controlled performance in what could have been a stereotypical "tour de force."
While Neeson clearly takes the lead here, the supporting roles are simply outstanding including Ben Kingsley as accountant Itzhak Stern, a man who works with Schindler yet remains wary of him and the Nazi's. Ralph Fiennes offers, perhaps, the "tour de force" performance as Amon Goeth, a sadistic Nazi whose callous brutality is disturbing yet, in many ways, very complementary to Schindler.
The list could go on and on in terms of exemplary performances...yet, it's so hard to single out individuals when truly every aspect of this film is perfect. The score of John Williams is magnificent, blending perfectly the desperation of the situation with the moments of great life and the moments of great rage...the cinematography of Janusz Kaminski utilizes perfectly the use of color (largely black and white) with tremendous shading and just the perfect mix of brutality and hopefulness.
The film's attention to detail is astounding, including the music, costuming, language and production design.
Yet, in many ways, watching "Schindler's List" makes me not want to comment on any of its production values. This film is so much more than its acting or its writing or its anything else...It is a film that transcends, truly, the art of filmmaking and becomes a story and a film and an experience for the entire world. Yes, it truly is that grand.
"Schindler's List" inspires, and yet, simultaneously horrifies. It is, in my opinion, Spielberg's finest work and one I doubt he will ever top. "Schindler's List" is more than a film...it is a life experience of such depth and beauty and greatness that I think it almost calls out for an 11th Commandment...Thou Shalt See "Schindler's List."