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SCHINDLER’S LIST (director: Steven Spielberg; screenwriters: from the novel Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally/Steven Zaillian; cinematographer: Janusz Kaminski; editor: Michael Kahn; music: John Williams; cast: Liam Neeson (Oskar Schindler), Ben Kingsley (Itzhak Stern), Ralph Fiennes (Amon Goeth), Caroline Goodall (Emilie Schindler), Jonathan Sagalle (Poldek Pfefferberg), Embeth Davidtz (Helen Hirsch); Runtime: 175; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Branko Lustig/Gerald R. Molen/Steven Spielberg; Universal; 1993)
“Accessible … .”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Steven Spielberg’s (“War of the Worlds”/”Munich”/”Amistad”) intensely personal film, a tougher one than what we have come to expect from him, uses the Booker Prize winning 1982 biographical novel of ‘Schindler’s Ark’ by the Australian writer Thomas Keneally and the screenplay by Steven Zaillian to base this larger than life true Holocaust story (the facts are gathered by witnesses and interviewees) about an opportunistic shady Nazi industrialist and war profiteer, a German Catholic from the Sudetenland, Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), who found it in his scheming heart to save the lives of 1,100 Jews in Cracow, Poland, from certain death in the concentration camps.

For its 3 1/4-hour length Spielberg keeps this important themed film interesting, unsentimental, intelligent, accessible, morally astute, aesthetic, riveting and entertaining. For this great achievement in harrowing filmmaking the Academy awarded the film with seven Oscars, including ones for Best Picture and Best Director.

The excellently crafted film is shot entirely by cinematographer Janusz Kaminski in a crisp black and white, except for the scenes that have Jewish prayer candles burning with orange flames and in the one with a little ghetto girl in a red coat.

Oskar Schindler purchased in 1939 a factory in Poland, as he thought up a get-rich-quick scheme of using Jews as a source of cheap labor. In 1941, in Nazi-occupied Cracow, the Jews are forced to live in a ghetto. This gives the hedonistic wife cheating Schindler an opportunity to put his scheme into operation. He uses the Polish Jewish accountant and member of the Jewish council, Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley), to be his right-hand man and run a kitchen equipment factory with cheap Jewish labor. Stern realizes that the factory workers are classified as essential workers and are exempt from “resettlement” in concentration camps. When Stern soon adds the likes of professionals, cripples and rabbis to the factory list, Schindler chooses to remain quiet. By 1942 the Final Solution begins and the evil Nazi butcher commandant, Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes), does the Devil’s work of ridding the ghetto Jews by either extinction or sending them to the forced labor camp at Plaszow. Schindler bribes the corruptible high-living Goeth to permit the factory to now operate within the concentration camp. By 1944, Schindler uses his money from his huge war profits to buy lives, as he seeks to prevent the surviving Jews from being shipped to Auschwitz and instead has them shipped to a munitions factory he has opened in Moravia. That Schindler undergoes a character change, and at great risk to himself seeks to protect the Jews, is something that can’t be explained. It’s a story that has the triumph of good over evil taking place in a very unlikely greedy individual who has suddenly been transformed into a selfless hero, which is part of what makes this story very appealing.

The film works best when Spielberg refuses to explain Schindler. But he can’t resist, so near the end there are a few missteps as things do become more simplistic and sentimental as Spielberg weakens and brings into play some of his usual filmmaking faults. But, as a whole, this is a powerful telling of a Holocaust story that has its fictitious moments but still ably serves as a justifiable historical record. Though not the definitive Holocaust film, yet it’s a better look at the Holocaust than most other films and is certainly one of Spielberg’s more serious and better films.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”