SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 3 hours 15 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language, some Sexuality and Actuality Violence

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Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Written by: Steven Zaillian

(based on the novel SCHINDLER’S ARK by Thomas Keneally)

Starring: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Caroline Goodall, Jonathan Sagall, Embeth Davidtz & Malgorzata Gebel

Of all the atrocities in human history, the Holocaust certainly makes an argument for being one of the most depressing and depraved acts of evil. However, in times of unspeakable evil, goodness can always shine through in the kind actions of caring individuals. German businessman Oskar Schindler put his life on the line and went above and beyond to save 1,100 Jews during the Holocaust. Schindler’s heroic actions are brilliantly brought to stark life in SCHINDLER’S LIST, which also serves as director Steven Spielberg’s finest hour. This film is a masterpiece that is absolutely essential viewing.

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The time is WWII and Jews are systematically being stripped of their basic human rights. It is no wonder why Oskar Schindler has come up with a pretty ingenious, crooked plan to run a new company by employing Jews. Schindler is profiting off slave labor and reaping all the financial benefits. His Jewish assistant, Itzhak Stern, uses Schindler’s company to employ as many Jews as possible…much to Schindler’s dismay as he sees his business as a business instead of a safe haven. Though Schindler starts off as a uncaring businessman, he finds himself changed as the war continues and circumstances get more dire for his workers. This film tells Oskar Schindler’s story in beautiful and tragic detail.

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SCHINDLER’S LIST is ambitious epic that spans the duration of the Holocaust, detailing each significant step in that horrifying genocide. Despite being made in 1993, the film captures WWII Germany as best as it might ever be captured on the silver screen. There’s no possible way to bring all the real-life horrors to the screen, but Steven Spielberg definitely nails a suffocating atmosphere of despair that most certainly hovered over the concentration camps. Black-and-white cinematography lends to a timeless feeling, but also doesn’t shy from graphic visuals. Be warned, this movie is hard to watch in many places and frequently disturbing, as it should be considering the subject matter. At its heart, this is the story of one good man who did his best to save lives in the face of insurmountable wickedness.

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Liam Neeson is astounding as Schindler. Before Neeson became the unlikely action star that he is today, there was a quiet dignity around him. This quality shines through in Neeson’s Schindler going through a wholly believable transformation from cold businessman to unlikely hero. You grow to care about Schindler and appreciate every ounce of goodness this man contains in his bones, especially when he explains to skeptical Nazi officers why children and the elderly are essential to his company (thus saving their lives). Ben Kingsley disappears into his role as Stern who gradually becomes a best friend to Schindler as the years go on. Ralph Fiennes dominates his scenes as SS-captain Amon Goeth. Molding his portrayal based on actual testimonies from concentration camp survivors, Fiennes is scary and stone-faced as the Nazi. War can bring out the worst in people, but Goeth seems to have been an utter sociopath enjoying the benefits of killing without repercussions. Scenes between Neeson and Fiennes give some of the heaviest pieces of dialogue in the whole film, including a discussion about what makes real power.

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SCHINDLER’S LIST encompasses a lot of strong emotions. Oskar Schindler’s journey and selfless actions are inspiring and beautiful. The Holocaust imagery is harrowing and heart-breaking. I cannot think of one single moment where I was ever bored as this film covers a lot of ground with a steady pace that manages to capture years of sorrow in a running time of just over three hours. A scene involving the showers at Auschwitz is an agonizingly intense sequence and the ending is one of the biggest tear-jerking cinematic experiences that I’ve ever seen (I wound up nearly sobbing as a result).

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SCHINDLER’S LIST is deserving of every single accolade, bit of praise and award it has received since it’s release. Though Spielberg has laid down many cinematic corner stones in his career, this is the masterpiece that he’ll always be remembered for. War certainly brings out the worst in people, but also manages to bring out inherent kindness of genuinely good human beings. SCHINDLER’S LIST is a classic that deserves to go down as one of the greatest films ever made and one of the most important films that you’ll ever watch.

Grade: A+

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