|Schindler's List (1993)
Starring: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Caroline Goodhall
Director: Steven Spielberg
In 1991, Steven Spielberg had made the worst movie of his career with the Peter Pan story “Hook.” It was as if his mind was on more important matters. Of course, in hindsight it’s hardly a stretch to make that assumption when just two years later the director gave us his magnum opus with the crushingly heartfelt Holocaust story “Schindler’s List,” a film that many consider to be one of the best movies ever made about this dark hour in world history.
“Schindler’s List” tells the true story of Czech businessman and money hound Oskar Schindler, who opened up a factory in Poland during World War II to exploit cheap Jewish labor, only to end up creating a refuge for Jews after witnessing the horrors of Nazi barbarism. By the end of the war, Schindler had saved roughly 1,200 Jews from the gas chambers.
Liam Neeson stars as Oskar Schindler, a man who by all accounts was a greedy womanizer, gambler and heavy drinker who, for inexplicable reasons, gave up everything to spare Jews from the Holocaust. Why would a man whose only motive was the pursuit of profit suddenly give a damn about anything but himself? This is a question that Spielberg explores but doesn’t attempt to answer, and that’s a good thing. It’s not the why that matters so much. Why wouldn’t he? It’s the who that matters – as in who was able to survive thanks to this man.
The acting, of course, is superb. Neeson is fantastic as Schindler, a role that ended up being a breakout for the actor. He plays this complicated man with a piercing bravado. Ben Kingsley plays his assistant Itzhak Stern, the angel on Schindler’s shoulder so to speak, with a haunting and quiet grace. And because a Spielberg film, especially one about the Holocaust, wouldn’t be complete without a villain, there is Ralph Fiennes as Amon Goeth, a purely evil commandant at a concentration camp who spends his mornings leisurely picking off Jews from on high for target practice.
“Schindler’s List” is by far Spielberg’s most personal film. Shot in black and white with none of the glossiness or spectacle characteristic of the director, the film is a triumph. Spielberg is an infinitely better director when he is passionate about the subject, and as a Jew it’s clear why this film would mean so much to him. The movie is raw and unexpected and it vividly depicts the Holocaust in all its monstrousness.This is not to say the film is without its flaws. Spielberg, like he does with all of his historical epics, takes dramatic liberties in order to tell his story. The climax, in which Schindler tearfully admits how many more Jews he could have saved if he had given up a little more, is powerful, but it never happened. It’s a forgivable offense, since the real strength of the film is the emotion it is able to invoke. At the end, Spielberg shows us what one imperfect man with a conscience was able to accomplish – actual Schindler survivors and descendents placing rocks on the man’s grave. There are no words, but it speaks volumes.