Starring: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Caroline Goodall, Jonathan Sagall, Embeth Davidtz
Director: Steven Spielberg
Summary: In Poland during World War II, Oskar Schindler gradually becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce after witnessing their persecution by the Nazis
Other Nominations: Director*, Actor (Neeson), Supporting Actor (Fiennes), Adapted Screenplay*, Original Score*, Sound, Art Direction*, Cinematography*, Makeup, Costume Design, Film Editing*
There are two big things that made this both financially successful and artistically excellent. First, I will admit that it forsakes some depth and nuance in exchange for a narrative that still gets across what it needs to and would get a lot more people to the box office than for something like, Shoah; I would say this is an acceptable trade-off. Second, the entire presentation is outstanding and feels very unified, everything feeding into a more documentary feel. The sparse use of John Williams’ score works effectively, as any dramatic music cues would lessen the striiped-down documentary-style they’re attempting. The editing is excellent, making frequent use of long takes with many fewer cuts (along with a lot of match-cuts) which makes sense in this context-the faster the editing, the more aware you are that you’re watching something cinematic vs. real life. Finally, it’s in black and white which both evokes news footage of the period and accentuates facial expressions.
The storytelling holds up its end of the bargain as well. It does a great job of showing the escalation of the holocaust well, how a society will tolerate encroachments on freedoms bits and pieces at a time where they wouldn’t all at once, yet those small erosions add up until there’s nothing left. It also gets across the randomness of the cruelty, the lack of logic or sense involved. The arc of a playboy businessman who profits from the Nazi war machine but doesn’t want to get involved politically to a hero who saves the lives of over a thousand people (and by extension, their descendents) works, even if it’s not the “ideal” story to tell about the holocaust. By this, I mean that in a way, it’s like a white savior movie: it’s about a German gentile who rescues a minority population who mostly end up as background characters. I would say it’s less bothersome to me than other similar films because it’s made by a member of the minority population who wanted to film this specific story, instead of a studio who would only make a movie like this if the main character wasn’t a minority.
Finally, the performances are generally good, with Neeson being consistently solid and Fiennes being the standout as basically the physical embodiment of evil, a complete psychopath who has brief flashes of something resembling humanity only to be extinguished a moment later. While this is not a perfect film about the holocaust, I don’t think any fictional film could be and what it does bring to the table is incredible. A film worthy of the praise it received