97. Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg, 1993) #7 in IMDB top 250
Weighing in at a tasty 3 hours plus this is a chunky film. There’s not an awful lot you can say about it that hasn’t already been said. If you don’t know the story; Liam Neeson is Oskar Schindler, a Czech businessman and Nazi party member for whom World War II presents a business opportunity unlike any other. His newly established ceramic factory in Krakow employs Jewish workers from the hastily built ghetto, because it is cheaper than employing a ‘normal’ Polish worker. Over time Schindler becomes more and more aware of the atrocities being committed against the Jewish population, especially after the arrival of the new Captain, Amon Göth (Ralph Fiennes), and the construction of the concentration camp at nearby Płaszów. Eventually, at great risk to all involved, Schindler makes arrangements to rescue over 1000 of the Jewish inmates at the camp under the guise of a cheap labour force.
This is powerful and mature film-making at its finest. There isn’t a hint of sentimentality about the film at all. Instead it makes great strides at forcing you to view this story in all its grisly detail. A story of misery, pain and endurance. At the centre of the whole thing are four stunning performances. Liam Neeson as the Nazi whose believable gradual transformation is a credit to the actor and to Steve Zaillian’s script, Ben Kingsley as the accountant who smuggles the most needy into the factory and manages a performance mainly of great emotion through the simplest expressions, Embeth Davidtz as the maid caught and captive in the madness and horror next to Ralph Fiennes’ Göth. This is the clincher. Fiennes is on the verge of being overtly camp, too pathetic and impotently angry but instead he manages to balance the performance on a knife edge. He never descends to any easy trope, instead he finds the broken human inside the character and pushes him forward alongside the disgusting engineer death.
Schindler’s List might have easily suffered from being worthy or trite but it doesn’t. It is a superb piece of cinema about an important and incredible true story. See it.
One quick final point. There is a writer for The Guardian newspaper called Tanya Gold. I don’t know Tanya but I’m afraid I find her a little bit annoying. She recently wrote an article about how we have too much of the Nazis in our popular culture, fearing that it somehow amounts to a kind of fetishism. Well, Tanya may have a bit of a point but it got lost in her desperate scramble to attack any culture product with a sniff of swastika and she made a bit of a messerschmidt of the whole thing. Read it here. Whilst there is a bit of a national fascination (it isn’t quite an obsession yet) with the defeated culture fascist Germany you have to accept a bit of chaff with the wheat. For every Schindler’s List there may well be a story about ‘Nazi cows’ but I think I’d be willing to pay that price for a piece of cinema this satisfyingly constructed.
Note: Schindler’s List is listed in the Neon book 1000 Essential Movies on Video under ‘True Stories’.