Pros: excellent performances, good treatment of a terrible subject, excellent cinematography
Cons: a few moments that become too dramatic
It's hard to believe sometimes that there are still those that deny the Holocaust happened. Not only were there disbelievers as to the reports of what was happening when it began seeping out of Germany and other countries under Nazi control during the time leading up to the Second World War as well as during the war itself, but that there are still disbelievers after the soldiers who saw the camps for themselves talked about it is unfathomable in my eyes.
Steven Spielberg wanted to pay a debt to his heritage as well as creating a film that had a deeper impact beyond just making money. His answer for both was Schindler's List, which garnered many awards including Best Picture and Best Director at the Academy Awards.
In 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Jewish citizens were ordered to register and leave their homes to be relocated in ghettos in the cities. The Jewish labor force is much cheaper for a factory owner, Oskar Schindler (portrayed by Liam Neeson) than hiring Poles. It ends up metamorphosing into something different as time goes on.
Schindler is motivated by greed and profit, pure and simple. He sees the war as a way to make money, especially as a good and faithful member of the Nazi Party. No one questions his building a factory and staffing it the cheapest way possible. However, after the ghetto is cleaned out and he is without his factory workers, he begins to re-think the notion of profit above all else.
At no point is Schindler elevated to something more than what he was. Spielberg shows him for all his faults; that he was motivated by greed and profit and that he wasn't exactly a faithful husband. In fact, it was when he and his ladyfriend are out horseback riding and witness some of the slaughter taking place that his perspective on what's happening begins to change.
However, as time wears on, he sees the workers as something more than just a means to profit. In particular is the relationship between Schindler and Stern (portrayed by Ben Kingsley) who works in the factory as his accountant. Schindler submits a list of the people he needs to run the factory to the Commandant of the Concentration Camp (portrayed by Ralph Fiennes) and from that comes the title of the film. He staffs it with more people that he realistically needs, but this is allowed in the name of the German war effort.
Of course everyone knows how that war will play out, but there is still some drama here for those who don't know the story already as to whether or not he can keep the workers alive in the factory until the end of the war and liberation.
Filmed in black and white, Spielberg does use the occasional color shots to highlight moments of particular importance. It's quite effective and makes those moments all the more effective. At the same time, though, there were moments where the tug on emotions is a bit much. In particular, there is a dramatic scene where the rifle shots can be seen flashing in the darkness all over the ghetto as the piano accompanies it. I know it was supposed to be dramatic, but it seemed a bit much.
The performances are excellent. All of the characters are well rounded and show the shades of gray to people. Only the Commandant seems to be strictly there to epitomize evil, rather than showing various facets of his personality. Still, all of the actors do what they need to and bring a very difficult story to life.
On DVD, there are some good extras including testimony by people who were saved by Oskar Schindler and their descendents. It's good without being overdone as far as making the film coming off as self-important.
That doesn't mean that Schindler's List isn't a great film. In fact, it's a film that should be seen widely and often. Some of the content has kept schools from showing it due to the nudity, sex and violence, and that's a shame. What's here is done tastefully and realistically to depict people as they were. In an age where we don't seem to have any empathy for innocents "on the other side" it can be a sobering reminder that there are people just like us all over.
• Voices From the List
• The Shoah Foundation Story with Steven Spielberg
• Cast and Filmmaker Biographies
• About Oskar Schindler
© 2010 Patti Aliventi