The story follows Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who seeks to make fortune by establishing a business in newly-conquered Poland. A vain, ruthless, and manipulative man, he charms officers and forces experienced Jews into working for him in his factories for profit. However, as the film and the months advance, he realises the true horror of the Holocaust and the Jewish genocide, and starts using his considerable influence to save as many Jews from the concentration camps as possible. But all this does not even begin to sum up Stephen Zaillian's script, which is, for lack of a better adjective, masterful. Throughout the complex and deeply moving story, various characters emerge and interweave: Schindler (Neeson), of Itzhak Stern (Kingsley), the Jewish businessman who becomes Schindler's right arm and factory manager, that of Amon Goeth, the mentally disturbed concentration camp commander and that of his unlikely Jewish love interest, Helen Hirsh (Embeth Davidz), and that of various other people who live and die in the concentration camps. But the wonderful thing is that these persons are not just names; throughout the film, we live their dramas, lives, deaths, pains and loves, and struggles for survival, and we come to care for them, struggle for them, and grieve with them. After seeing this movie, I feel like I knew every person in that movie. And this is one of the film's greatest strenghts, as it achieves what I hold as the most important quality in a movie script: making the characters seem like human people while still managing to grasp the whole issue.
But the scipt is certainly not Schindler's List only strength, as the ensemble cast is one of the best I've ever seen. Liam Neeson gives a classic performance as Oskar Schindler, who the Holocaust transforms from a greedy businessman to a humanitarian. This transformation is nuanced and acted with terrific skill by Neeson, and I applaud him for carrying such a difficult and central role so well. However, around Neeson's key performance are a number of excellent, and oftentimes moving performances: Ben Kingsley as Stern, Joseph Fiennes in a powerful role as Goeth, and Embeth Davidz as Helen Hirsh.
However, I believe that the real star of Schindler's List is Steven Spielberg, who is almost absent from the production. Allow me to explain: Spielberg's filmmaking style in Schindler is extremely restrained, and thus, he allows to story to play itself out. Now, a lesser director would have milked a subject such as this for all the emotional manipulation it was worth, but Spielberg didn't, and I believe this to be one of the greatest choices of his career. He allows us to experience the story as it really was, and without any bias, and this gives the film a sincerity and a power absent from most productions of this scale. It also shows that Spielberg has what many well-known directors haven't: the ability to restrain his ego.
The film itself is shot in black and white. Almost, that is, because there are some color elements in the game that emphasise certain events. However, this is used extremely sparingly, and thus it gives those aformentioned scenes great power. The camerawork is also very traditionalist, but any other way would have been wrong. Furthermore, the cinematography by longtime Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kaminsky (Jurassic Park, A.I.) is exquisite, giving the film elegance and a grave tone. I have long thought that Kaminsky is one of the greatest cinematographers in mainstream filmmaking (along with Robert Richardson and John Mathieson), and this just strengthtens my conviction. Finally, also present is the greatest musical score of the decade, by longtime Spielberg collaborator and friend John Williams.
To tell you the truth, Schindler's List is one of the only films I've seen with which I have absolutely no complaints. And even if I would have, they would simply pale in comparison, because the film is a monumental achievement, both in scope, and, most imporantly, in emotion and sheer human power. There are scenes in this film which left me emotionally devastated, more so than in any other film I've seen. What Spielberg has created here is nothing less than a world-class masterpiece, worthy to stand alongside classics such as Citizen Kane and Casablanca as the greatest films ever made.
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