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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Phenomal and moving - one of the greatest., 11 May 2000
This review is from: Schindler's List [1994][VHS tape] (VHS Tape)
Schindler's List: A Review
'Schindler's List' may be set in the Second World War but it isn't yet another gung-ho action 'Saving Private Ryan' type film. In fact, it is a wonderfully crafted documentary style piece, whose moving imagery, technical mastery and understated dialogue combine to deliver a very moving and powerful presentation of the terrible inhuman atrocities of the Holocaust.
Growing up in peacetime, in a relatively liberal country, it is hard to fully understand the horrors and discrimination that happened during the Second World War, but Schindler's List is a film that leaves us in no doubt about the scale of human suffering that occurred. The film concentrates on the true story of Oskar Schindler, a Nazi Polish businessman initially interested only in capitalizing on the circumstances by using cheap Jewish labour from the Ghetto. By the end of the film, he is transformed into a hero who lost his fortune to save over a thousand persecuted Jews and defraud the Nazis.
Liam Neeson is superb as Oskar Schindler. His immense physical stature reflects the importance of the character. He handles the change of character from businessman to humanitarian with great restraint and control so when he finally allows Schindler open emotion at the end the impact is overwhelmingly powerful.
Ben Kingsley gives a brilliant performance as Itzhak Stern, a clever Jewish accountant hired by Schindler to run his factory. Stern uses his position to employ and protect many of his fellow Jews. When Schindler finds out, he is at first disappointed but eventually actively instructs Stern to do the things that he would have frowned upon earlier. Stern recognizes Schindler's humanity and the relationship that grows between them develops subtly. They only really show their feelings when the war ends. The scene where Schindler breaks down in tears at the end because he doesn't think he has done enough and is comforted by Stern is very emotional.
The other key role is that of Ralph Fiennes, as Amonn Goeth, the Nazi in charge of the labour camp. He gives a fine performance as a stupid, brutal and unstable man who personifies the Nazi ideology. He shows no humanity towards the Jews and takes great pleasure in playing God to decide who lives and who dies, such as taking pot shots at the prisoners from his balcony, for fun.
The film would not have been such a success if not for the masterful direction, camerawork and the special effects of individual scenes. Spielberg himself lost relatives in the Holocaust and was intent on educating his audience about what happened and make us question our own views of prejudice by showing how far it can go if we let it. The film is shot in a documentary style, in black and white, with cutting techniques as would have been used at the time in the early forties to make it seem real and true to the period. He also uses actual locations, including Schindler's factory and the gates of Auschwitz, to make it look authentic. There are some very poignant moments of camerawork such as when he picks out a little girl in a red dress, one of the few bits of colour in the film. The first time we see her she is running away from the soldiers to hide, the second she is being burned at Chujowa Gorge. Spielberg clearly wants us to remember these shots. The technique speaks more eloquently than any dialogue could about how even the young and innocent were not spared.
Some plaudits must go to both Steven Zallian, who spent ten years writing the script, and got an Oscar for it, and Anna Biedrzycka, who outfitted not just the stars, but thirty thousand extras as well. (That's a lot of washing!)
There are several scenes of massacre and confusion that involve thousands of extras in the foreground, mid-ground and in our peripheral vision. These are some of the most convincing scenes of mass pandemonium and terror ever filmed. They were achieved by sending in the actors with spoken lines and a few hidden hand held cameras into the melee so the extras didn't know they were being filmed and didn't feel as if they were under pressure. The effect of all this is powerful. By allowing the audience to observe the horrors, the evil of the Holocaust really comes alive. This is a departure from Spielberg's usual style of melodrama and special effects for box office pay offs, such as his other hit of the year, 'Jurassic Park.' His personal passion for the subject shows in a restrained and sincere way.
All films are entertainment, but it would be hard to describe this film in those terms. It certainly has all the components of a great film. The acting, direction, camera work and composition are absorbing. It certainly gripped me for the entire three and a quarter hours. But, the subject is such an overwhelming one that it would be better to describe it as a historical document depicted in an entertaining way.
It is down to Spielberg's genius that he found a way of conveying his message of persecution and inhumanity to a popular audience. The film is one that every young person should see.
Tom Newton - Lewis 14 England
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