Schindler's List (1993) / Drama-War

MPAA Rated: R for realistic violence, nudity, some sexuality and language               Running Time: 197 min.

Cast: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Caroline Goodall, Jonathan Sagall, Embeth Davidtz  
Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Steven Zaillian (based on the book by Thomas Keneally)

Review published April 13, 2003

Sometimes a film is more than a film.  Sometimes it's an indefinable experience, so gripping and engaging that you soon forget you are even watching a movie.  Schindler's List is one such film.

Without a doubt, Steven Spielberg's (Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) most important work, and probably the one that had the most personal meaning.  Schindler's List is a moving, sweeping tragedy, beautiful and horrific at the same time. 

Mostly shot in black and white, recalling some of the grim footage of the times from which it was made, this is a recounting of one man's quest to save as many of the Polish Jews as possible from the brutal Nazi regime that sought to enslave, and later destroy them.  He didn't start out that way.  In fact, Oskar Schindler (Neeson, Darkman) was an opportunist who saw the ability to make lots of money with the cheapest of labor during the war period, by taking Jews out of the German camps and employing them in his factory.  As the war progresses, and the atrocities become more egregious, Schindler's heart begins to soften, and he soon uses the fortune he earned to try to save those souls who helped made him prosperous.

Although there are some dramatic license elements of the film that are clearly meant for more engaging storytelling purposes only, Schindler's List still provides some of the most accurate and realistic portrayals of the war from the inside perspective.  Utilizing actual accounts of the events, Spielberg and the rest of the production company have created a period piece that transcends beyond props and sets, giving us a glimpse of what the suffering must have been like in a fashion one isn't able to get from pictures or written accounts alone.

At the same time, Schindler's List isn't just a critically acclaimed film because it's important historically.  It's also a beautiful work of art, unlike anything Spielberg has done before or since.  It was a risky venture, with Spielberg waiving his fees entirely, shooting a film that was over three hours long, in black and white, with relative no name stars save Neeson and Kingsley (Searching for Bobby Fischer, Sneakers).  However, everything is perfection, from the gritty cinematography by Janusz Kaminski (Amistad, Saving Private Ryan) to the gorgeous score by perennial Spielberg collaborator, John Williams (Home Alone, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom).  It's a tour-de-force of filmmaking, utilizing a relatively small budget to craft what could have easily been complete folly and turning it into one of the most enriching and moving experiences in cinematic history.

Schindler's List is a beautifully acted, brilliantly directed masterpiece that everyone should watch at least once in their lifetime.  It's essential and unforgettable viewing for one of the most horrific chapters in the history of humanity, and a reaffirming testament to the will and triumph of goodness and generosity even amid the most trying of circumstances.

Qwipster's rating:

2003 Vince Leo