Dir: Steven Speilberg
It was this movie that broke through my irrational Speilberg prejudice some years ago. I was mesmerized then, and yet had not seen the film since. Revisiting it now, I am even more enthralled with its sophistication and depth. The Holocuast is the most important of all stories; every single aspect of the human condition can be read through it. What fascinates here is the shifting attitude of Schindler himself, a transformation from selfish and charming backslapper to righteous man. He is flanked by less ambiguous portrayals of evil and good, Ralph Fiennes' Goeth and Ben Kinglsey's Stern. Schindler's enlightenment is hugely insightful and beautiful, finding salvation in the midst of the most evil act the world has ever seen. It alone makes this movie a masterpiece.
Neeson's performance is expertly crafted, but it is actually Fiennes who dazzles most. Ron mentioned in his earlier review of this film that SS had never directed an Academy award winning performance. That is only because of the unending stupidity of the Academy voters. You know who won that year over Ralph? Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive. One day, go back and watch this movie with that in mind. Fiennes is so bonechilling as the camp director, so undeniably powerful and cruel, that his performance can in many ways be seen as the best personification of the Holocuast ever put on film.
Ron also mentions the way people die. How odd that such a phenomenon could become the signature of a film! And yet, it is undeniable that the actions of corpses, shot with callousness and often without their foreknowledge, is among the most haunting images I have ever seen. Immediately the victims transform from normal activity to collapsing rag dolls, piles of limbs on the ground; only their spilling blood reminds us of the movements they performed seconds before.
The whole effect is aided by the unbelievable lighting. The performances are dramatically enhanced by huge pools of light on faces, showcasing every expression with a clarity that I have never seen rivaled in a black and white film. Objects pop off the screen as Speilberg compensates for the lack of definition that is possible from color contrasts by enhancing light and dark. It makes the shadows all the more shadowy, and lends womderful crispness to all things in the light.
I cannot think of a bad Holocaust film (I have had this discussion before with some of you). That is because (1) the subject matter is so rich and (2) no director brings less than her A game to such a film. And Schindler's List ranks near the top of this esteemed genre. This is without a doubt His best film, without a doubt better than the best films of almost everyone that has ever made films. It is an essential contribution to the most important thing art can do: it makes us look at ourselves in new ways.