Starring: Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley
Director: Steven Spielberg
Running Time: 195 mins
Schindler’s List is an American film about the true story of German businessman Oskar Schindler, who, over the course of the Second World War, began to take in hundreds of Jews bound for concentration camps in order to prevent the genocide.
This is such an important historical film, and one that has so much emotional power when you watch it. With incredible performances across the board, sublime directing by Steven Spielberg, a hugely affecting score, and a harrowing story, it’s a film for the ages that is now basically necessary viewing.
The plot revolves around Schindler’s growing realisation of the humanitarian atrocities the Nazis were committing during the Second World War, and in that, we get a both harrowing and hopeful story. The presentation of the Nazi’s brutality is unflinchingly realistic, and with so many incredibly graphic shots of their crimes, it’s certain that you’ll be hit hard by this film.
And whilst that is the main story that bares the most significant message about avoiding a repeat of this in the future, there is still a genuinely hopeful side to the plot, as we watch how even a Nazi Party member such as Oskar Schindler could become aware of how awful the events of the Holocaust were as they were happening, and his subsequently astonishing efforts to reduce the death toll as much as possible. It’s still not a pleasant watch, but that side to the story gives you a greater sense of hope and faith in humanity.
And of course, there’s that amazingly iconic piece of symbolism in the middle of the movie. Spielberg’s decision to shoot the film in black-and-white was ingenious, as it lends a much heavier and darker tone which is more appropriate to the story, but the moments where he shows one little girl wearing a visibly red coat amidst all the madness is hugely powerful. It was in that moment that I felt most affected by this film, because of the way that it symbolises both hope and the loss of innocence in war, in such an effortlessly elegant and incredibly clear way.
The performances in this film were excellent. Liam Neeson is fantastic as the maverick businessman Oskar Schindler, but also does a great job when portraying the extreme emotion he feels when saving so many Jews from the Holocaust. Meanwhile, Ben Kingsley is great as Schindler’s right-hand man, and brings a real calmness and wisdom to a lot of scenes where it seems like all hope is lost, and Ralph Fiennes, as the evil concentration camp commander is also excellent, playing his character’s total brutality to full effect to make him all the more loathsome.
One final success of this film is its beautifully melancholic score by none other than John Williams. It plays eerily in the background over the course of all three hours of this film, and I found it to be one of the most emotionally impacting scores I’ve ever heard, both because of its musical brilliance, and its extreme depth in relation to the subject matter.
However, just because this film is so historically significant doesn’t mean it’s immune to a few flaws, the biggest of which is its length. It does tell the horrific events of the Holocaust in incredible detail, and deserves praise for that, but it is often so crushingly slow-paced in some of the establishing shots and sequences where we don’t see our main characters for ten minutes or so that it can become boring, especially when it’s dragged over three hours.
Despite that, Schindler’s List is an absolute classic of what historical dramas should be, and that’s why it gets an 8.0 from me.