Thursday, September 9, 2010

Day Sixty-Nine: Schindler's List

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #7
Year: 1993
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes

In the seventeen years since its release, Schindler's List has become symbolically synonymous with the Holocaust itself. No other film has attempted to capture the bleakness of the most horrific genocide in the history of the world so completely, and there's no shortage of scenes that absolutely crush the soul. But while Schindler's List is a Holocaust movie, it's not one without hope. It's more accurately, in Netflix's words, about the "possibility of human goodness." We see the Nazis commit unspeakable acts throughout the film, but for every scene of evil, we're granted one of goodwill toward men. The prevailing tone of the movie is still unmistakably dark, but the glimmers of light that it lets in keep it from feeling exploitative of tragedy and offer an ultimately positive message.

This movie has come under some fire as being "uncriticizable" because of its indelible link to the Holocaust and an apparent fear among reviewers of being called anti-Semitic. Perhaps the reason so little professional negative press for Schindler's List exists not out of this paranoia but simply because it's a terrific, moving film with very few notable flaws. Sure, the scope of the project and the awesome weight that Steven Spielberg took on when he set out to direct it has probably allowed a few things to be swept under the rug, but that's more than forgivable. Beyond the tear-jerking development of the story, Spielberg does plenty right. The black-and-white cinematography is starkly striking and fits the tone perfectly, and when Spielberg introduces color for a brief scene featuring a girl in a red coat – and brings it back later on a corpse – the desired effect is deftly achieved. Liam Neeson's performance as Oskar Schindler, the business titan who pays off the Nazis to keep nearly 1,200 Jewish employees of his factories out of Auschwitz, is nothing short of brilliant. I don't generally consider Neeson to be a very good actor, but he knocks this performance out of the park.

At the risk of sounding like one of those paranoid closeted anti-Semites, I definitely think some of Schindler's List's legacy today comes from the subject matter. It's a great movie; there's no doubt about that – but it's #7 on the IMDb Top 250, and that just seems a little high. I can't really argue with it too much, though. I mentioned in my post on The Shawshank Redemption that while that epic is probably not the favorite movie of all time for many people, everyone who sees it accepts that it's great, and that made its position atop the list acceptable. Pretty much the same thing goes for Schindler's List. I've never met anyone who ranks it among their personal favorite movies, but then again, I've never met anyone who didn't like it. It's the quintessential Steven Spielberg movie, and the movie he was born to make. If you're like me and somehow made it to 2010 without seeing this film, do so.

The Good: The cinematography is the best of Spielberg's career, and this is one of the few times that it's actually a notable aspect of one of his films. Every shot is meticulously composed and looks great, even when it depicts something utterly dispiriting.

The Bad: There are moments that feel a little bit audience-manipulating and exploitative, but Spielberg always rescues them.

The Skinny: #7 is way too high, but it makes sense. See my last paragraph above.

1 comment:

  1. Stephen Spielberg requested not to be paid for making this film.
    I think that this is one of the greatest films of all time.