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Schindler's List

Review Written by: Estefan Ellison
Film: A+
Video/Audio/Extras: A-/B+/B

Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Steven Zaillian
Based on the book by: Thomas Keneally
Produced by: Steven Spielberg, Branko Lustig and Gerald R. Molen
Starring: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Caroline Goodall, Jonathan Sagall, Embeth Davidtz
Buy it!, Buy it, rent it or skip it: Buy it

The medium of film can be used to present both fact and fiction, with realistic portrayals of historical events littered in the multiplex among the fantasy adventures. Steven Spielberg is renowned for his special effects-laden blockbusters, but even more so for his World War II epics that are meant more to inform and remember rather than to entertain. His most accomplished film is Schindler's List, based on the true story of a man who saved over a thousand Jews from extermination. Those renting the DVD just to have a fun time would be best to look elsewhere. Those who are looking to view a perfect take on a very depressing time in European history will find it in Schindler's List. This is not Oscar bait, like so many people claim it to be. This is a upsetting and heart-wrenching motion picture that is sure to bring some people to tears. With an excellent cast, a beautiful score and harrowing camera-work, Schindler's List succeeds on so many levels.

Set in Poland during World War II, the film centers on Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a member of the Nazi Party who wishes to open a pots and pans factory in Krakow. Due to Jewish workers being much cheaper than Poles, he hires an accountant called Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) to help roll up Jews to work in the factory. Soon, more and more of them are hired and while Schindler originally saved the Jews for profit, now he wants to save them from being gassed in the concentration camps. Meanwhile, Schindler meets Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes), a Nazi soldier who takes pleasure in shooting Jews. However, he also has a relationship with Helen Hirsch (Embeth Davidtz), a Jewish woman who is sometimes abused, but also sometimes loved by Goeth. These two stories are also connected with those of the prisoners in the Ghettos and concentration camps, who are hired and saved by Schindler.

The images of Schindler's List are very depressing and upsetting, but it could not have worked any other way. Spielberg portrays Nazi-occupied Poland accurately and thus, it's quite possibly one of the saddest films ever made. It's not an easy film to watch, but it should certainly be mandatory viewing. Schindler's List is not just a movie, it's a call for an end to prejudice. The Holocaust was one of the most horrific events of the twentieth century and it is perfectly filmed by director of photography Janusz Kaminski. The majority of the film is in black-and-white, a very intelligent decision on Spielberg's part, which actually makes the film look more realistic than if it was entirely in colour. Many scenes, including one involving a jammed gun, make us stop and think that maybe we shouldn't take things for granted. Steven Zaillian's screenplay is tight and manages to portray these real-life people very well with excellent dialogue. In addition, John Williams' score adds even more heartbreak to this tremendous film.

Yet, it is the actors who truly sell the film. Liam Neeson shows plenty of range as a man, who starts off as greedy and only looking for profit and then slowly changes into a hero. Schindler is a man who wants to make money, but also wants to save lives and Neeson perfectly shows a man who can't have his cake and eat it, too. Ben Kingsley gives very subtle work as Stern, a man who is in two worlds: that of the ghettos and concentration camps and then working alongside a man who can save his fellow Jews. While Schindler is giving him instructions, we see that Stern is secretly pulling the strings as much as he can. Finally, Ralph Fiennes truly shows that he is one of Britain's finest young actors with his role as the ruthless Goeth. We see in his eyes a man who is not "just following orders" like some Nazis were at the time, but really somebody who does believe a lot in Der Führer's evil ideas. Fiennes portrays his love for Hirsch very well, showing him at a crossroads. On the one hand, he hates Jews and believes them to be scum, but on the other, he has a deep admiration for Helen. Yet, he feels he must show his meaner side to the follow soldiers. Fiennes not only shows an evil man, but a man truly in love as well.

Steven Spielberg is the master behind this brilliant production and everything about it is composed so well. He proved with this film that he has the ability to direct serious, dramatic films and this is the film that most people will view him upon. It is the story of triumph and how if you try, you can help save the world and lead to the end of racism and violence. After all, as the Talmud says, "Whoever saves one life saves the world entire." This quote can be applied to people of all religions, not just those who Oskar Schindler saved years ago. That is what Schindler's List is most of all about: the fight against bigotry and injustice.

The DVD for Schindler's List is a double-sided affair with all of the extras on the second side of the disc. However, those looking for a behind-the-scenes look at the film will be disappointed. The lack of a Steven Spielberg commentary isn't surprising, as he personally likes the film to speak for themselves, but typically his DVDs have documentaries on the makings of the films. Schindler's List doesn't have any, with featurettes instead concentrating more on the actual war than the filming of Spielberg's masterpiece. There isn't even a trailer for the film. To start us off, the first extra is a documentary titled "Voices From the List" that features interview from Holocaust survivors talking about the real Oskar Schindler. It's a fascinating documentary that delves even more into the man and it's interesting to see what information the film left out. A shorter documentary is also on the disc, that details the birth of the Shoah Foundation and what it does. Despite it being an obvious way to advertise the Foundation, it still provides enough information to make it interesting. The DVD concludes with text information on the cast, crew and the real Schindler.

While more information on the film's production would have been nice, this is still a good set of a fantastic film. The film's presentation is well done and the few extras provided are very informative. While you're certainly not going to watch this film on a boring day, it's still good enough to have in your collection. Schindler's List comes highly recommended.

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