Schindler's List - Movie Review

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My review of the film "Schindler's List".

Submitted: June 22, 2015

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Submitted: June 22, 2015

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Schindler's List - Movie Review

In my opinion, Schindler’s list is the best movie of all-time.

Now, allow me to spend this review justifying that statement.

Schindler’s List is directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Liam Neeson, Raph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley and Embeth Davidtz. The story follows Oskar Schindler, who began WW2 as a profiteer but ended up caring deeply for the Jews working in his factory; saving 1200 of them from being killed in the Holocaust.

The story of Oskar Schindler is a remarkable tale of human ingenuity, kindness and strength, yet at its core was not a flawless human being. Oskar Schindler was a womaniser, failed every business he started before and after the war and a list of other things which made him imperfect.

In lesser hands, the film may have shied away from these elements, over-glorifying Schindler as a saviour. Fortunately, Schindler’s List was a passion project created by one of the finest filmmakers in the world: Steven Spielberg. Being Jewish himself, the attention to detail and handling of the time period, people and events is stark, honest and incredibly moving.

No, the film is not 100% historically accurate. But it does the most important thing any historical has to do. It depicts what it is representing in a respectful and engaging way, which will make the audience interested both in the film and the real life events. I can personally confirm this as the film increased my interest in this subject matter tenfold and made Oskar Schindler into one of my personal heroes. This is also evident on an international scale, such as the city of Krakow purchasing Schindler’s enamelware factory and turning it into a museum, due to the increased interest the film had caused.

The film begins with Oskar Schindler in a nightclub and within this first scene alone, it is clear that Spielberg is on top-form in terms of direction. Every single moment, every single image, every single second of the scene is iconic. Within this first scene, there are a dozen great moments: Schindler observing the Nazis from across the room, Schindler smoking with a wild grin on his face, the Nazis being won over by Schindler’s charisma, all of which help to demonstrate what a charismatic figure he truly was; helping the audience to understand later why it was Schindler was able to twist the Nazis to his will with ease.

Generally speaking, if you were to freeze the film moment by moment, you could take any image, hang it on your wall and you would have a work of art. This is down to Spielberg’s direction, which is stylish but not to the point where it becomes distracting and it always has an endless amount of substance to back it up. This is not solely due to the film’s compelling subject matter but in the execution, from its outstanding production values to the career best acting.

Let’s start with the actors. Liam Neeson gives an incredible performance as Oskar Schindler and while it may be difficult for some viewers to distance themselves from his modern image as an action star, he will soon convince you otherwise as his conviction to portraying Oskar Schindler shines through; giving a career best performance.

Ben Kingsley also does a fantastic job portraying Itzhak Stern, Schindler’s Jewish accountant, business manager and by the end of the film, friend. His performance is great, as is that of Embeth Davidtz as Helen Hirsch. Both bring subtlety and layers to their characters and their performances are great.

However, it is Raph Fiennes who steals the show. Portraying a Nazi commandant, especially one as reviled as Amon Goeth is not easy and while the screenplay helps with this, in the hands of a lesser actor, this performance could have come across as over-the-top, melodramatic or any number of ways which would have crippled the film.

Raph Fiennes strikes exactly the right balance. He chillingly portrays the evil Amon Goeth, sniping Jewish workers in his camp from a balcony in such a callous and vile manner, that the audience immediately find themselves disgusted by him. Yet when he displays moments of humanity, the performance sells it as being genuine and as the character flip-flops between these two extremes; often at short notice, his performance has to sell this convincingly and it does.

As for the production values, it is near impossible to find a fault in any of them. 

The cinematography is gorgeous, though slightly-toned down from Spielberg’s regular style, a wise move for a film such as this. Sound mixing and editing are always excellent and the lighting stands out in so many scenes, that it would take far too long to list them all and why. All I will say is that it helps to capture the emotions of the characters and depict the setting they are in, perfectly.

The score by John Williams, while certainly not his most bombastic or entertaining, I find to be his most beautiful and the main theme by Itzhak Perlman is memorable and extremely haunting and it would take a heart of stone not to be emotionally affected by it in some way.

Set design, costumes, makeup etc. all depict the time period perfectly and that is a compliment to which the whole film earns. Every single moment feels like it truly is in the time period it depicts, not once breaking immersion except for the final scene which I shall discuss at the end. The pacing is excellent, scenes flow together seamlessly and while some may not find the subject matter interesting, if you are someone who does or even has the slightest interest in it, the film will never lose your attention.

One of the film’s most notable aspects is the decision to be filmed in black and white. Because of this, the film has a visual crispness unmatched by any other black or white film i’ve seen and when colour does turn up, it is incredibly effective, the primary example being the girl in the red coat.

This metaphor for the allied governments knowledge of the holocaust, yet doing nothing to stop it will emotionally devastate you once you realise its meaning and even within the context of the story, reaches a tragic conclusion as the coat is glimpsed upon a pile of burning bodies. Regardless of what you interpret from this, it is one of the most striking images in film history and reflects the bitter madness, cruelty and horror of the holocaust perfect.

Despite the subject matter, it does not attempt to create an entirely joyless film experience. While those looking for a comedy should leave now, the film has occasional moments of humour which enhance the atmosphere, rather than break it. By showing this contrast of emotion, the world feels more real, obviously an important aspect for a historical. More importantly however, it helps the emotional scenes to be far more effective than if the entire film were downtrodden and gloomy.

If I were to name a standout scene in this film, I would essentially be spoiling the entire thing for you. Any scene between Schindler and Goeth delves deep into the minds of both men and is compelling to watch. A brief section in the Auschwitz death camp has more tension then most action movies and is scarier than most horrors. The opening scene in the nightclub oozes with style and atmosphere, the goodbye between Schindler and Itzhak is undeniably powerful and there is of course, the final scene.

The final scene jumps forward in the future, showing the grave of Oskar Schindler as the cast and many of the real life people depicted in the film place stones on his grave in memory. 

Of all the moments in the film, this is arguably its most powerful and does something which I have seen virtually no other film do… it transcends itself. It becomes more than a film, more than just hours of visual beauty and entertainment but it creates history, adding to the story of Oskar Schindler in such a touching and beautiful way. 

The final image of Liam Neeson placing the two red roses onto the grave of the man who he depicted, is the most powerful ending to any film I have seen and the perfect way to break immersion; by respectfully acknowledging that while they may have told the story of him to the best of their abilities, it is the real man himself which should be commended.

This utter humility despite the magnificent work of art they created shows that everyone involved, knew the point of making this film. That is wasn’t for a paycheque or to be oscar nominated or to promote themselves. It was a tribute to the man who saved 1200 lives in one of the darkest periods of human history. To me, the final scene in Schindler’s List is the ultimate in what a film of this nature can achieve: adding to the story of which it has told, respectfully depicting it and acknowledging that the true story itself is what matters.

Schindler’s List did not re-define filmmaking, such as films like Citizen Kane or even Spielberg’s other film of the same year: Jurassic Park. It did not gross the most amount of money or be the most entertaining film of all-time.

What Schindler’s List is however, is the pinnacle of filmmaking. It takes a story which needs to be told and does not try to impossibly adapt it 100% correctly but instead captures the spirit and the important details and messages of what these events say. 

After viewing Schindler’s List, I can honestly say that it has made me a better person for seeing it and I strongly believe it will do the same for you. It shows you that humanity can sink to the lowest depths, that we can create the hells and devils on our own earth that no religion ever will, yet there will always be people who fight against this. 

People who show you that humanity may be dark, depraved and cruel, but that it is also beautiful, kind and flawed. Flawed may be a strange compliment to give but it is these flaws which allowed Schindler to be who he was and where he was, to influence the course of human history. Not by toppling an empire or leading a revolution but by saving lives. And there will never be a more powerful message to give, then that which says humanity is worth saving… because it is the right thing to do.

For all these reasons and so many more, Schindler’s List is, in my opinion, the greatest film of all-time.


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