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Schindler's List

With it being Memorial Day and all, I thought we might go with a war movie. Of course Iíve already done All Quiet on the Western Front and Gone With the Wind, and Platoon and From Here to Eternity arenít all that favorable to the US military, and Braveheart isnít about a war the US took part in (much less one that occurred at a time the US existed), and I havenít been able to dig up a copy of Wings. So letís dig into the "Why We Fight" category with 1993ís Oscar winner, Schindlerís List.

Liam Neeson plays the title character Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who joins the Nazi party solely to make business connections. After the German invasion of Poland and the establishment of the Jewish ghetto, he starts a business in Krakow using Jews as slave labor (under German law he could not pay the Jews, but he did pay them under the table in trade goods). Eventually he has to move the factory to follow his labor from the Krakow ghetto to a concentration camp. At about the same time he comes to the realization that his factory is being used as a refuge, that the Jews in his factory will be seen by the reich as essential to the war effort, giving them a much better chance at survival. By the end of the war, Schindler owns a munitions factory that will not produce a single working shell, and bribing Nazi officials to turn a blind eye.

There have been few movies even remotely this powerful. Schindler is not a good man, he cheats on his wife, drinks too much, and sets out not to help the Jews, but to make money. But though not a good man, in the end he is a great man. He gives up all the money to stand up to the most evil regime the world has ever seen.

While Schindler is a flawed hero, the antagonist is one of the darkest villains in movie history, Amon Goeth, played with an evil creepiness by Ralph Fiennes. He is a man who randomly shoots just about anyone, gives a pep talk before wiping out the ghetto, claims that showing affection for Jews is a kind of virus, wakes up his girlfriend by cocking a rifle and pointing it at her, and has everyone around him afraid for their lives. All the while, he never seems to realize that Schindlerís goals are the polar opposite of the goals of the Nazi regime that his camp is a part of. The scenes between Goeth and Schindler are fascinating to watch, simply because Amon has so ridiculously misinterpreted Schindler, and both actors play this wonderfully. Both were nominated for Oscars that year, though both lost, Neeson in the lead category to Tom Hanks for Philadelphia, which is forgivable, Fiennes in the supporting category to Tommy Lee Jones for The Fugitive, which is not. Sadly Ben Kingsley was not nominated for his equally wonderful portrayal of Itzhak Stern.

Schindlerís List took home a slew of awards in other categories, including cinematography and best score, and in both cases it is one of the best of all time. As for the competition in the big category, there really isnít any. In the Name of the Father is a great movie, and if it were nominated in most other years, I would have been happy to see it win, but it is not remotely in the same league as Schindlerís List.

In fact, one remarkable thing about this movie is the number of prominent directors who turned the project down, including Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski (who lived in the Krakow ghetto) and Billy Wilder (whoís mother was killed at Auschwitz), because none of them thought they were equal to the task. Wilder did contribute to the screenplay, which capped off an amazing career that included his own Oscar winners The Lost Weekend and The Apartment, and several others that easily could have won, including Ninotchka, Double Indemnity, and Some Like it Hot.

This one is fairly close to being a perfect movie. I hope no one gets turned off by the fact that it was filmed in black and white, because there is so much violence that if it were filmed in color it wouldnít have looked much different from a slasher flick, and this not only has far better production values than that, but it is also far more important. As a powerful portrayal of the single worst episode in human history, it is unsurpassed. Only the ninth episode of the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers comes close. A movie like this is meant to rock your emotions, and no movie is better at it, driving the viewer to tears contemplating that one group of humans actually did this to another group.


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