In a career filled with extraordinary movies, Steven Spielberg’s crowning masterpiece is Schindler’s List. The 1993 film is a powerful piece of filmmaking, filled with richness and humanity. This is Spielberg working at the top of his game, taking the dramatic beats from his early, ‘popcorn movies’ and parlaying them into this three hour, gut-wrenching drama. The mastery on display here is even more fascinating when you take into account the fact that he shot Schindler’s List back-to-back with Jurassic Park, editing the Michael Crichton film while he was shooting the WWII drama.
Schindler’s List scores exceptionally high in the performance stakes. Liam Neeson headlines the film with a quiet gravitas in his role as Oskar Schindler, the factory owner who sees a way of saving Jewish lives during the holocaust. Ben Kingsley delivers as Schindler’s right-hand-man Itzhak Stern and Ralph Fiennes is exceptional in the complex role of as Amon Göth, a concentration camp commandant. Fiennes could have been the moustache twirling villain of the piece but he gives the role of Göth many layers.
As someone who is not a fan of Janusz Kamiński’s bleachy hues, Schindler’s List is a visual treat. The black and white photography is rich and textured, offering the film a documentary feel. The now legendary sequence of the young girl making her way through the ghetto is the heart of the film, a powerful moment of pure cinema. The inclusion of John Williams’ emotive score means that you have a film packed with first rate elements. If any film shows the true power of cinema, it’s this.
Some argue that Steven Spielberg plays into his tendency for sentimentality, but Schindler’s List is a film that needs heart and emotion. If you can’t attempt to offer some light at the darkest moments of humanity, then why even show it in the first place? Spielberg’s career would never be the same after Schindler’s List. He might have followed it up with Jurassic Park: The Lost World, but you can tell his heart wasn’t in making soulless crowd-pleasing fare. He would continue to have hits but there was a darker shade to his work, where even his blockbusters like Minority Report and War Of The Words would teeter into darker themes.
A fascinating film on all levels, Schindler’s List still connects 25 years after its initial release. It deserves to continue to be viewed not just as an important cinematic achievement, but also a valuable document in history.
The Schindler’s List 25th Anniversary Edition blu-ray comes with an exceptional array of special features. It includes a new on stage discussion with cast and crew from 2018 titled Schindler’s List: 25 Years Later. Also included are features of varying length: Voices from the List, USC Shoah Foundation Story with Steven Spielberg, Let Their Testimonies Speak – Stronger Than Hate and About IWitness. Great stuff.