Oscar Movie Month: "Schindler's List" Review

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Liam Neeson stars as Oskar Schindler, a German businessman during World War II. A testament to the good in all of us, Schindler becomes compassionate and a humanitarian when he turn his factory in Poland into a refuge for Jews. This true story provides a brutally honest look at the Nazi regime and their acts of terror to the Jewish community. Steven Spielberg directed this Academy Award winner for Best picture in 1993.
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Oscar Movie Month: "Schindler's List" Review

Rating: R
Length: 195 minutes
Release Date: December 15, 1993
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Genre: Biography, Drama, History

When Steven Spielberg took on the task of directing and co-producing "Schindler's List," he created a film that changed the way people viewed both him and the Holocaust. Based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman, "Schindler's List" is a story of compassion trumping greed. It takes the tale of Schindler, along with those of the Jews that he saved from certain death at Auschwitz, and weaves it in with some of the nuts and bolts of day-to-day life during the Holocaust in a way not often seen in the movies.

After the Germans defeated the Polish Army in 1939, Polish Jews were rounded up and sent to the Kraków Ghetto to serve as cheap labor for the Nazis. German businessman and Nazi party member Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), described as opportunistic and greedy, traveled to Kraków to exploit the situation and build his fortune.

He soon acquires a factory where he plans to produce mess kits and other cooking implements for the Nazis, but he realizes he needs someone who has experience running that type of operation. In short order, Schindler makes a deal with Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) a member of the local Jewish Council. Stern immediately counsels Schindler to hire Jewish Poles rather than Catholic Poles, and he agrees.

Soon after the arrival of SS officer Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes), the Nazis decide to eliminate the Kraków ghetto and either move everyone to the Paszów labor camp or kill them. The massacre changes something in Schindler, and he is determined to save as many Jews as he can. After making a deal with Goeth, he is allowed to create a subcamp at his factory to house his Jewish workers with the intention of eventually moving them to a factory in Moravia, where he was originally from. This deal comes at a cost, however, as Goeth charges Schindler a set price for each worker. Schindler and Stern sit down to create a list of Jews who will stay with them, thereby avoiding the death camp at Auschwitz, based on the amount of money they had available. The list contained roughly 1,100 names.

The remainder of the movie takes the viewer through the horrors of the Nazis' "final solution" from the eyes of those at the heart of the drama and ends when the Soviets take control of Poland. It details how Schindler risked his own reputation and even his life to save the people on his list.

Schindler goes through a dramatic transformation from a businessman who would do anything to make a buck to a penniless man determined to help those less fortunate avoid the horrors of the war. In one day, he goes from a thriving member of the Nazi party to a criminal, but one who is satisfied with how his life has played out.

The story is based on a book, "Schindler's Ark," by Australian author Thomas Keneally. When first presented with the book, Spielberg was interested enough to convince Universal Pictures to buy the rights to it. Despite his lengthy directing credits, which included smash hits like "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Jaws," and "The Color Purple," he didn't feel ready to take on a plot about the Holocaust himself. After several attempts to bring other directors on board, he finally opted to take on the project as director and producer.

Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, and Ralph Fiennes are a powerhouse trio in this film, and it is difficult to name any other set of actors who would have done the movie the same justice. In fact, it is rumored that one of the survivors who met Ralph Fiennes shook in fear because in costume, he looked so much like the Nazi he portrayed in the movie, Amon Goeth.

It was all about realism for Spielberg throughout the shoot. Filming it in black and white gave the movie the authentic grittiness necessary to convey the story. Spielberg hired descendants of the Jews on Schindler's list to play some key speaking roles, German actors to play many of the Nazis roles, and Catholic Poles to play the roles of the survivors. In the epilogue, the people who are shown setting stones on Schindler's grave are either descendants of the survivors or the survivors themselves walking hand-in-hand with the actors who portrayed them.

The movie grossed more than $96 million at the box office and is considered by many to be one of the greatest films of all time. As of 2012, it ranked eighth on the American Film Institute's list of best American films. "Schindler's List" also went on to win seven Academy Awards, seven BAFTA awards, and three Golden Globes, as well as a host of other awards around the globe.

Rating: 4 out of 5