Sunday, 23 August 2015

Review: Schindler's List

I can't believe I haven't seen…

Schindler's List Poster

Schindler's List (1993)
Cert: 15 / 187 mins / Dir. Steven Spielberg / Trailer
WoB Rating: 6/7


You see? I knew there was a time when Liam Neeson didn't wear black leather jackets and punch people in the mush. Turns out it was 1993. Steven Spielberg's telling of the German industrialist (read: jaw-dropping capitalist) who saved 1200 Jewish lives from the Nazi regime is an oddly stylish affair. Not just the black-and-white film, but also the high contrast lighting-states suggest a 1940s noir-thriller, although the film is nowhere near as sassy or flippant in its tone (additionally, the hand-held camerawork seems ill-at-ease with the final presentation).

But importantly yes, of course it's a great film. In terms of storytelling and character development, it's an unmitigated success. Subtlety is further back down the line, of course, but there's little of that to be found in the subject matter anyway, and Spielberg's trademark sentimentality occasionally breaks out into full-blown mawkishness (again, that's more than forgivable*1). The thing which sets the film apart from other period-pieces is the factual roots of the screenplay; because if you look past the melodramatic hand-wringing of the lead character, this really is a quite fucking remarkable account of a quite fucking remarkable story.

Neeson is (despite my misgivings above) painstakingly conflicted in his role as Schindler; Ben Kingsley is understated as his Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern, and Ralph Fiennes ends up with a jaw like Popeye's arm from all the scenery he chews as Nazi nut-job Amon Goeth.

At three-and-a-quarter hours, the film is left to unwind at the pace it needs, but that doesn't mean the audience is left to ponder over the framing. We even get a couple of scenes where Schindler literally summarises the plot for viewers who are having a hard time keeping up (Goeth's overnight-transformation into slightly-less-of-a-bastard is also a little patronising). And while I'm on, some of the child-actors employed here are dreadful, which seems insulting under the circumstances.

But the scene with corpses being conveyed into a mass pyre while a requiem thunders in the background reminded me more than a little of Anakin Skywalker on the shores of Mustafar, and Liam Neeson bargaining to save the life of a woman in enforced servitude through gambling brought back the scene in the Mos Espa podrace hangar where Qui-Gon tries to liberate Anakin and his mother Shmi. The legacy that the film alone has had on subsequent storytelling is huge; the story's legacy for humanity itself is unimaginable. I really should have watched this years ago. Shame on me.

As great as film as Schindler's List is, I have to say that I found The Pianist to be far more emotionally affecting, probably because of its smaller scale (although ironically, the sentimentalist Spielberg directs the appalling scenes of violence far more eloquently than the realist Polanski). That said, the accents in both movies feel like an unnecessary contrivance, so maybe we'll call it a draw?



Have you really never seen this before?
Yeah, really. Well, it's not exactly light viewing, is it? Besides, in 1993 I was too busy giving my money to Spielberg for Jurassic Park.


So are you glad you've finally have?
Absolutely.


And would you recommend it, now?
Absolutely.


Oh, and is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't. Perhaps understandably.

It's also just occurred to me that the yellow stars next to each question seem in rather poor taste for this film. They're there for all my other reviews as well, before you start, okay?



…but what's the Star Wars connection?
The headlining actor is none other that Qui-Gon Jinn himself, Liam Neeson.


And if I HAD to put a number on it…




*1 And while it is entirely forgivable, it makes War Horse seem all the more unbearably cloying.

DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
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