Schindler's List (1993) (R)

"Schindler's List" is probably both Steven Spielberg's best known piece and the quintessential Holocaust film. It culminated at the peak of Spielberg's career and stands as his last greatest work (with the possible exception of "Catch Me If You Can") , yes, I am including "Saving Private Ryan". Certainly filled with the complexity of the situation itself and gaining tidbits of knowledge from movies like "Shoah", "Schindler's List" is a movie about loss and the triumph of the will (please note the irony, you cinephiles). Kubrick is quoted for saying that "Schindler's List" is a movie about success while the Holocaust was about failure. His point is valid, yet how can you deny the success amidst failure? How can you pretend that it doesn't exist? Anyways...
Opening in 1939, the movie spans the time of the entirety of the plight against the Jewish people. From the time that Poland was invaded to the very end of the war to present day "Schindler's List" is one movie that certainly merits its running time.
Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson in his best role), is a man with many faces. He's attempting to be a lucrative businessman, ladies' man, and friend to the Third Reich. He belongs to the Nazi party, though his actions, even at the beginning of the film, suggest that their demonstrations and his ethics don't always line up. Still, this is no saint, he is a flawed man and Spielberg rightly shows him as just such.
Deciding to capitalize on the war, Schindler opens a metal-works factory that manufactures pots and pans. He uses a Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) to help him keep his head on his shoulders. As the war progresses and the demise of the Jewish people becomes more imminent, Schindler has to start to struggle to keep his business because the Germans are constantly towing his work force away and killing them.
It's important to note that Schindler first employs all Jews because they get paid less than Polish workers. This is one of the only reasons that he is allowed access to the ghetto Jews who are across the street from his factory.
Itzhak recruits the workers, and saves many people's lives from being taken away. He forges papers and gets his friends and family to safety in Schindler's factory. Oskar isn't keen on the idea of being a safe haven for those to come to ease their burdens; but he does have a heart. After a young woman implores him to save her family from the camps, he begins to realize that it's not all about money, that human life has some sort of intrinsic value.
Enter Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes), a German officer who runs a camp with an iron fist. He is so cruel and seems to relish in his cruelty. One scene in which Goeth and his fellow Germans round the Jews out of the ghetto proves it. He's drunk and cheerful at the beginning and near the end of the day, he's just ready to kill all the Jews so he can get some rest. He holds no value in their life, once saying to his maid "you're not a real person".
Yet to Goeth too, there is a human underneath and although both Fiennes and Spielberg play him with as much villainy as possible, the humanity can't help but slip through for the briefest of brief moments, as if he knows what he's doing is wrong.
And therein lies the problem with "Schindler's List", the fact that it is almost too optimistic in the way it views humans. However, I don't think Spielberg could have won this: make the Germans too evil and its hyperbole, make them too sympathetic and you're not telling history. The truth, which the film realizes, is somewhere in between empathy and tyranny, and it gives this middle ground such a dazzling and heartbreaking portrayal.
The plot of the movie itself feels very historical, though some of the fact were no doubt smudged a little. Schindler ranges from likable to hated, Goeth pretty much always stays the same.
Shot in black-and-white with few, poignant exceptions, "Schindler's List" is an emotional journey, one that has become essential viewing since its release. Sweeping the Oscars, "Schindler's List" is so personal for Spielberg. It's so loving, it's so hard to watch. You can feel the passion, the love, and the anguish with every frame of the film.
It's a great looking movie, and its violence is never celebrated.
Here, Spielberg gives us his masterpiece, in every sense.

Score: ★★★★

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