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Heaven's Gate (1980)
A Gloriously Shot but Overlong Mess
We have all heard the stories, the nick-names, and the utter hatred this movie received upon its premiere in 1980. Heaven's Gate was the egg laid by respected director Michael Cimino, which ultimately destroyed one of the most famous movie studios in movie history. I almost cannot put into words how bloody confusing this movie is in terms of reaction. I must ultimately ask this question many ask when they see it. Heaven's Gate: A grand true epic film, or a trip into he unchecked ego of Hollywood? Ultimately, the conclusion I drew was that Heaven's Gate is a gloriously shot but overlong mess.
The story, based on historical fact, dramatizes the Johnson County Cattle Wars of 1890. Marshall Jim Averill (Kris Kristofferson) a man born into wealth in the midst of European settlers, tries to keep order despite and impending tragedy. The rich cattle barons of the state of Wyoming, led by Canton (Sam Waterston) create a "death list" of each settler in the county to prevent "anarchy cattle theft." All the while Averill woos local bordello madam Ella (Isabelle Huppert) despite her similar attraction to Baron hit-man Champion (Christopher Walken)
The premise seems simple to follow, but that is only a summary of this nearly three and a half hour movie. In fact, most of the film is empty shots of people quite literally doing nothing of importance. The problem is director Michael Cimino. The film is lacking what it so richly deserves, evoking emotion within the viewer. When there is a five minute scene of people obscured by dust and incomprehensible dialog, the viewer ultimately becomes frustrated, not subversively challenged to get up to speed to understand it. There are numerous subplots Cimino includes in his script, and while some are decent enough, like Jeff Bridges character opening a roller skating rink called "Heaven's Gate," the rest are ultimately and sadly pointless. Two perfect examples are completely unnecessary prologue and epilogue sequences which add nothing at all to the impact of the movie, in fact in my opinion they hurt the movie's flow and central idea.
The budget of this movie has become stuff or movie lore, forty-four million dollars on a movie that could have been made for at least three quarters of it. Most of it was spent on Cimino's relentless attention to mostly unnecessary details. But, with that said, the movie is BEAUTIFUL. One of the brilliant choices Cimino made on this movie was the selection of legendary DP Vilmos Zsigmond. The vistas and wide shots are like beautiful oil paintings put to film. Zsigmond is the master of lighting, and it truly shows in this film. Sometimes I got lost looking at the lighting and shadows created. The sets, however expensive they were, are also gorgeous. I can at least say that this movie is not cheap looking at all, every penny seems to be on the screen.
What ultimately makes this movie a dud is Cimino's lack of idea what this movie is supposed to be. It was trying to be the greatest movie ever made, but it tried much too hard. Much too hard to the point where one cannot latch on to anyone or anything in the movie, which is what we as a viewer are supposed to do. While it is a pretty movie, it runs far too long to have a cohesive story and not much interesting development in the characters.
I do believe that this movie deserves at least one or two viewings to catch what may have been missed the first time around. However i wouldn't go putting it on the top ten list of anything, or the top 100 for that matter. Ultimately, Heaven's Gate is the scorned child of a director who went too far without really going anywhere to begin with.
House of Cards (1990)
Impressive and Gripping
When I first watched the U.S. Series of House of Cards, i was surprised to learn that not only was it based off a book, but also another BBC Miniseries. Whet i found was not only a good miniseries, but perhaps ones of the finest television series ever put to film. House of Cards U.K. is most impressive and gripping considering how short it is and how much story there is. Thanks to clever writing and a powerful performance from Ian Richardson, this is one of the best.
After Margaret Thatcher's departure as Prime Minister of England, Chief Majority Whip Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson) seeks a higher office after years of learning the deepest secrets and ins and outs of politics. However when is double crossed by the spineless new P.M. Hal Collingridge, he sets out to ruin the P.M. and take power for himself. He assembles the desperate band of scoundrels and spins the web of political drama that may very well be dangerous for unsuspecting members of Parliament.
This series, based on political writer Michael Dobbs' best selling novel, is a prime example of how well balanced a political series can be without getting bogged down in the minutiae. Much like The West Wing, we are given a very complex situation and setting, and yet we are able to follow it because just enough is explained for us to know whats really happening. Andrew Davies' writing is some of the best I have ever heard in media, and really set a high bar for Beau Willimon when it came time for him to write the U.S. Series, but thats for the next review.
The best element of this series is Urquhart himself. He is played by a little known British actor named Ian Richardson, and by gum he hits out of the stratosphere. He is a very calculating man who always seems to hit the right note when he has to. What makes him even more interesting, when he shares his little asides with the audience (a wonderful idea), is that he can be a warm and quite funny individual, like a charming uncle you would visit every so often. He never once gnashes his teeth or ever goes over the top as most villains would. In fact he's very subdued and stoic, making him all the more intimidating when his lackeys must do his bidding.
When your dealing with a book the size of the Bible and turning it into a mini-series, a lot of stuff must be left in or left out to make it dramatically compelling. In the case of House of Cards U.K., just the right amount of both political jargon and human elements are left in. Sometimes it takes a second viewing to rally catch whats going on and how they are trying to deal with the situations Urquhart has spun beyond their control. It all builds up to a rather exciting conclusion which i wouldn't dream of spoiling.
This is one of the best no questions asked. I do hope that the U.S. Series will make people aware of this truly outstanding series and they will at least give it a view. As to whether this will become quite as popular as the newer one, I couldn't possibly comment. Enjoy!
The Haunting (1963)
One of the Scariest
After many years and limited titles, I have finally discovered a new film to go with the ones that actually get the hairs on the back of my neck to shoot up on end. The Haunting is a masterpiece from director Robert Wise, the kind that comes rarely in a distinguished career. There is hardly anything I can find in this film that is remotely lacking. I rarely say this... this movie genuinely made me afraid.
The story thank goodness is actually very solid. A professor's keen interest in the supernatural leads him to create a group of "established" parapsychologists and ESP experts and observe the goings on of a aged property called Hill House. One of the invited, Nell (played by Julie Harris), is a mentally unstable woman who harbors deep fears and insecurities about herself and her place in the oppressive world around her. Eventually the house-guests begin to experience paranormal activity and hear sounds that send them into absolute terror. Nell however believes that this haunting may be for a reason that the others can't understand like she can.
The execution of this seemingly simple story actually becomes very complicated, and keeps you guessing at every turn. As a viewer, we aren't exactly sure if the sounds are coming from the house itself or the minds of the house-guests, more specifically Nell's own tortured mind. Much like Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, this particular story is made all the more suspenseful and scary in what we do not see, and what our subconscious presents to us. Some of the images become so disturbing and creepy that we actually begin to doubt what is real, which is the sign of ingenuity in storytelling.
In what initially annoyed me in the acting, eventually changed to empathy and wanting to help these characters. Initially, Julie Harris' Nell is a very mousy character who grated. But as the film progresses and the haunting becomes more intense, her insecurities and delusions about her lack of respect from the others begin to consume her, much like her romantic notions about the house when she arrives. The other actors, including Claire Bloom (Charly) and Russ Tamblyn (West Side Story) and Richard Johnson as the surprisingly honest Professor Markway do good jobs trying to portray flawed people thrown into an uncomfortable situation.
The atmosphere of this movie is immense and breathtaking. The old unchanged look of the house gives off the impression of the Gothic, and the cinematography and lighting emphasizes this. I think this is the first film from the 60s that I've seen that uses very odd techniques and pan shots to convey a sense of mind bending terror and confusion very effectively and stunningly. The sets and statues in this movie gives off a very menacing presence adding to the chilling atmosphere.
While it may not be the scariest movie ever, and believe me there are very few movies that are truly scary, this one really got me cold and shivering as we went from one encounter to the next. Practically every aspect of this production works very well. This visit to Hill House is definitely worth your time.
Unbelievably Great Looking, Dramatically Lacking
The biggest cultural phenomenon of its time, Batman has become a thing of legend. Its Batman logo with its simple black and yellow design is now so iconic nobody needs to ask what it is. I unfortunately think the film's popularity overshadows a seriously flawed movie. Tim Burton's Batman is a perfect example of production design triumphing over substance of the story and potentially great characters.
The film plays out during Batman's (played by Michael Keaton) beginnings of crime busting in Gotham City, all while mob Lieutenant Jack Napier (played by Jack Nicholson) is set up by mob boss Gus Grissom to take a fall. Through the inadvertent interference of Batman, Napier is dropped into a vat of chemicals and emerges as the twisted, psychotic, silly, Prince music-loving Joker. As Joker's reign of crime continues and Batman must solve it, his alter ego Bruce Wayne must balance his double life with romance for ace reporter Vicki Vale (played by Kim Basinger)
The most impressive elements of this movie is the production design by artist Anton Furst and set decorator Peter Young, and the cinematography by the amazingly bizarre Director of Photography Roger Pratt. When I think of Gotham City this is the look I think of, something that few of the following films, except for The Dark Knight, have been even able to try to aim at. The sets and look of Gotham City is truly a wonder to behold, a bizarre array of angles, black schemes and Gothic Deco accentuated by Pratt's gloriously under-lit photography during the night scenes. One can almost feel the grime and gross smell of everyone and everything in this world. The Batmobile still remains one of the greatest designs for a car ever made and blows anything out of the water.
The best surprise of the movie for me in the dramatic department is Michael Keaton as Batman. Keaton is a very funny actor with great timing, but was rarely given the opportunity to anything outside the mold, in fact when Burton cast him fans were outraged that Mr. mom would play the beloved caped crusader. But thankfully, no one griped after they saw the masterwork he does here. One thing I noticed when watching is Keaton is very silent as Batman, and very reserved as Bruce Wayne. This is actually a very good approach to the role, on the opposite spectrum of what Christian Bale did as Batman in Nolan's films, which itself was a great take on the character. Keaton is able to convey the sense of loss and emptiness that Wayne feels after the terrible tragedy he's endured with one look in his face. That is impressive.
The rest of this film I find to be a little dull and too silly to take seriously. Basinger doesn't have much to work with as Vale, I just find her as a pretty object for affection. The characters of Bob and Knox are enjoyable to watch so thats fine. Jack Nicholson as the Joker sounded like a really good idea, until he became the Joker. He is so silly I can't ever believe him as a villain. I actually thought he was more scary as Jack Napier than Joker. Anybody who uses Prince songs to carry out crime to is as non-threatening as a demented snail.
The story is decent enough except for a few things writer Sam Hamm, who often takes the blame for it, did not do. One is making the character of Jack Napier into the man who killed the Wayne parents and into the Joker himself, who has always been nameless. He is not responsible for it, end of story. Alfred also makes the most unbelievably stupid mistake in the universe, but I can't reveal what it is.
I like this movie enough to watch it if its on TV occasionally, but I wouldn't call this a must see movie. For me its kind of a bore in most spots. But like I said before, it still has an amazing and gorgeous look to it that make sit an interesting movie. Of course, i have to credit this movie for giving Batman movie life, and ultimately paving the way for Nolan's films.
The Brave Little Toaster (1987)
Cooked to the Right Shade
Sometimes there comes a film that falls under the radar, despite earning positive reviews from many important critics. The Brave Little Toaster is a gem of creativity from a team of Disney animators independently of their corporate masters which never got the release it so richly deserves. Thanks to its smart writing, near-perfect direction, a glowing voice cast, and not half-bad animation, Toaster is cooked to the right shade of entertainment.
In an isolated summer cabin, five anthropomorphic household appliances (a toaster, a vacuum, a desk lamp, a radio, and an electric blanket) wait forlornly in anticipation for the return of "The Master," a little boy whom they formed a bond with before his "2,000 day" disappearance with his family. Fed up with waiting, Toaster (outstandingly voiced by Deanna Oliver) decides its time for them to set out toward the "City of Light" to find him. Their journey includes the stuff of adventure including appliance mutilation at a parts shop, a waterfall, evil modern appliances, and a sadistic junkyard magnet. Along the way, they learn to deal with their differences and band together to get home.
This film, based from the novella by Thomas M. Disch, was originally a vehicle for a young animator's directorial debut. That animator was John Lasseter, who sought to combine 2-D characters on a computer background in-house at Disney. Unfortunately, Disney's films were in the malaise era, therefore it's penny-pinching management pulled the plug on the project and fired Lasseter from his job. The project was then taken to independent studio Hyperion, where it ended up in the hands of Lasseter's good friends, animators Jerry Rees (Tron) and Joe Ranft (later Pixar writer) who transformed the novella into a smart screenplay that, unlike Disney, wasn't afraid to take risks with its imagery or ideas. Despite a budget that is practically an eighth of what it takes to produce decent animation, the heart and creativity gives it that special edge.
What sets this film apart from other animated films during that time, and even some features nowadays is the way Rees and Ranft got a handle on their characters. Just like the finest work at Pixar (where Lasseter and Ranft expanded on these achievements even more) each character has a special personality, and has the voice cast to match. The cast includes great voice actors and some great comedians, like SNL alums Jon Lovitz (as the loud and bombastic Radio) and Phil Hartman (who hilariously impersonates both Jack Nicholson and Peter Lorre in great cameos), Disney/Tony the Tiger voice actor Thurl Ravenscroft as the rumbling vacuum Kirby, Groundlings Deanna Oliver and Tim Stack as Toaster and Lampy, respectively, and Timothy E. Day as the sweetly innocent Blanky.
What makes Toaster very unique is its unabashed ventures into nightmarish imagery and scary sequences. There are plenty to go around in this movie, which some have seen as totally unnecessary and cruel. However, they're no scarier than the original Disney features, which themselves dabbled in darker images to offset the whimsy and sweetness. These scenes also add to the emotions of the journey that anything may face. I must say the darkest, but also the best, has to be the Junkyard sequence which is accompanied by the Van Dyke PArks song "Worthless," which evokes more emotion in five minutes than many features can't achieve in two hours.
This movie has all the right elements that work to a very good degree. David Newman and Van Dyke Parks' score and songs are pretty impressive, and dare I say brilliant. Jerry Rees' direction is pitch-perfect, the writing is good, the characters are good, its good to look at. This is a good, and very underrated movie. Give it a watch, and you will not be disappointed.
An Interesting Milestone in Student Filmmaking
During the transitional period between the Studio system period of filmmaking and the New Hollywood period of filmmaking, the modern greats were still film students breaking out of their box of creativity. One of the brightest was George Lucas. Based on a script by both himself and friends, Lucas created a film that drew attention to film students from major studios. THX 1138 4EB is one of the milestones by how student films are measured.
The minimal story is the escape of a drone, named THX 1138 4EB, from his dystopian labyrinth of a society, in which everything is white and sterile. "Authority," which is equivalent to "Big Brother" in this universe, always has security cameras and eyes watching THX's every move as he sprints his way figuring out how to escape Authority to the color world above his own.
This film isn't deep, this film has no character to really attach to. However, the artistry and storytelling approach is what make this short film quite unique. Lucas really knows how to present sets, characters, and sound in such a precise detail that one becomes enthralled by the sights and sounds before we even know whats happening. The theme of THX breaking free of an oppressive society where everything is controlled to the last chromosome is very familiar, and one we can all connect to on a visceral level.
This is a very impressive short film. It's not perfect, but its still has effort both in front of the camera, and had a future genius stretching his wings behind the camera.
Gentleman You Can't Fight in Here! This is The War Room!
The year is 1964, and the Cold War has been at a high for well over two years. People on both sides lived in fear of one another, relying on their leaders who constantly had their finger over the button. Such was seen as comedic fodder for great film director Stanley Kubrick who released his wickedly funny and satirical film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. This kind of movie was the proper dose of medicine the subject needed in the eyes of the film-goer.
Crazy American General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) seizes his initiative (lawfully given by the military mind you) to send his bomber squadron to attack Russia, because, as he tells exchange RAF officer Madrake (Peter Sellers) he will not let the Communists "sap and impurify all of our bodily fluids!" In the War Room, U.S. President Merkin Muffley (also Peter Sellers) negotiates fervently with the Russian Premier over the hot-line because the premier is angry that Muffley didn't "call just to say 'Hello.'" In the air, Maj. Kong (Slim Pickens) flies his B-52 toward their target, describing survival content boxes that are fit "for a weekend in Vegas" than surviving the Russian tundra. Muffley also takes advice from disabled former Nazi politician Dr. Strangelove (again Peter Sellers) who may have sinister plans in mind for the future, such as proper breeding techniques "of ten females to one male" should anything go wrong.
There is a reason why I included quotes when describing the plot of this movie. The quotes not only accurately describe the plot, but also gives a taste of the sheer lunacy of the characters in a situation that should be quite serious. For an odd reason, Kubrick and co-writer Terry Southern made this film into a comedy, thus giving a situation that was quite large and menacing a different point of view. With all the fault of humanity festering in the characters that hold the future in their hands, you have great comedic lines and a flawless setup and execution.
The acting of Peter Sellers is legendary. He had played multiple roles in films before, but here it seems far more farcical and funny that he has done so. Except for Mandrake which I kind of found flat and uninspired (perhaps this was the intent but I don't know)the other two are absolutely hilarious. But the only actor on the same plateau as Sellers is George C. Scott. Oh is this man great fun to watch. General Turgidson is the ultimate American, or so he believes. He is prone to anger and acts like a child when his opinion is quashed or when he thinks this is all a trick. The other actors are fine too, but since Mr. Sellers and Mr. Scott are two of my favorite actors, I have to give them more praise.
There is very little that I can say is wrong with Dr. Strangelove except for one crucial aspect of the film, the flying sequences. These have really bad rear-projection and blue screen work and its poor models really don't help the effect. That's only one star docked from this otherwise perfect movie. The camera work is outstanding, the editing is great. The sets by Ken Adam are immense and breathtaking.
This is one of the great films ever made. Its made even greater by that fact that it dared to make a scary situation funny, and succeeded.
The Lego Movie (2014)
The Best Movie Surprise of my Life (So Far)
When I first heard the news that Warner Bros. was producing The Lego Movie, I honestly believed that this would be another Battleship or Transformers, because nothing about Lego is cinematic, even though they are fun to play with. After reading some of the reviews of how funny it was, I immediately got a ticket to see what all the fuss was about. This movie was one of the best surprises of my life. When the movie was over, I thought I would never laugh again because I laughed almost every minute of this movie. The Lego Movie is funny, witty, smart, touching, and gorgeously animated!
Normally I would describe the plot in my reviews, but in this case, I want you all to be as surprised as I was. The wit and sophistication of the writing by 21 Jump Street directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller is absolutely brilliant. This is the kind of movie where the jokes work about 95% of the time, which is saying something about how funny this film is. The witticisms the characters say to one another reminded me very much of the film Caddyshack, which itself is an endlessly entertaining and quotable comedy.
This film contains the best voice cast ever put together since Toy Story. Every actor in this film gives they best they have, and more. I have to say the best surprise voice of the movie is Liam Neeson as Good Cop/Bad Cop. Its absurd how he keeps changing form Good to bad with such speed and ferocity, which makes it even more entertaining. But every voice actor is on the exact same playing field, like Chris Pratt, Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrell, and Elizabeth Banks to name a few.
The animation is, as I said earlier, absolutely gorgeous. The way the look and texture of the Lego world (right down to the tiny "Lego" inscribed on the locks) is truly a wonder to behold. Even the tiny details, like water, dust, and clouds, are all entirely animated in Lego. The lighting and cinematography also hearkens back to stop motion films seen on YouTube, which is also a neat look.
Don't be cynical. I was, and was given the best surprise I have ever been given at the movies. Check out The Lego Movie, because you are in for a treat.
A Masterpiece from James Cameron
Once in every decade since the inception of the motion picture camera, comes a film that seems to transcend criticism and stands the test of time as one of the all time greats. Such is the case with James Cameron's magnum opus, Titanic. This epic recreation of the ocean liner's ill-fated maiden voyage offers everything one can ask for, and more. There is spectacle and dramatic images that sticks with viewers for a very long time.
The film begins as a frame story, with a 101 year old survivor, Rose (played by Gloria Stuart), telling a team of treasure hunters and scientists her experience on the Titanic. As a younger woman (now played by Kate Winslet) Rose traveled in first class on the Titanic with her materialistic mother and her haughty fiancée Cal (played by Billy Zane) Rose feels completely suffocated by the stiff and mind numbing activities and chatter that comes with being rich, and wants to break out and just do something exciting. Her life changes when she meets third-class artist Jack Dawson (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) As the two talk and hang out more and more, they begin to fall for one another. Of course, her mother and fiancée disapprove mainly because he is poor. Everything comes to head when the ship hits an iceberg and begins to sink to her inevitable doom.
Some people have made the joke to death that this film is essentially "Romeo and Juliet on the Titanic." I see this as only somewhat true, as there are indeed similar elements, but the real story would detract from a by-the-numbers correlation between the stories. Here the love story really works on many levels. Rose and Jack do not fall in love at first sight. When they start talking with one another, they see that they do have much in common. It takes a few days but they decide that they are best for each other and fall completely in love.
Cameron has done something very special with all the characters characters in this film. He has always been noted for putting characters and interactions above the story, and so he does here too. Jack, Rose, Cal, Ruth, and Lovejoy are all fictional characters of course, but they all interact very convincingly with the real-life characters. In this way, when the ship sinks, the audience has built up and emotional connection to both fictional and real characters, allowing for more heartbreaking truth when most of the characters die or are in peril when the ship is sinking.
The casting of this movie is phenomenal. I have to credit casting director Mali Finn and Cameron for really finding great actors, and some of the best character actors in the business. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet forever made a splash (no pun intended) as two of Hollywood's best leading actors, and have so far proved that they are two of the best.
When production began on this film, Cameron knew partial sets and models simply wouldn't do. So he and his crew went out and actually built a huge version of the ship, carpets and all. He is a perfectionist, therefore everything on the ship had to be artistically and physically correct, to lend a greater sense of verisimilitude when the audience viewed it in 1997. It looks simply breathtaking, and we feel like we have been transported to the actual ship itself. As far as we know, Cameron probably knows the Titanic than anyone, so when its shown here in its glory, we believe it.
Of course, Titanic is about the sinking of the "unsinkable" ship. The final hour of the film is indeed the most gripping, as we see the ship start slipping beneath the waves. Cameron uses his extensive knowledge of special effects to very convincingly present the sinking in all of its gruesome truth. Its very well paced, finely edited, and of course, spectacular. And what makes it even more moving is we have gotten to know the characters and therefore its very heartbreaking when most of them die. The aftermath is of course, very tragic and cruel, because we all know what happened. But when it came on screen, we were still broken by it. When those who couldn't get into the lifeboat drown, we wish in our hearts that they could have. There is more her that will shock viewers, but I wouldn't dream in a million years of revealing the ending of Jack and Rose's story arc.
Just as I claimed for Steven Spielberg directing Schindler's List, here, it initially seems like James Cameron is the wrong man for the job at first glance. He is known for action films, no romances or dramas. Yet somehow, this is the greatest film he has ever done. He directs with a keen vision, and is quite unrelenting in getting his vision across, hence why many people despise working with him. But his passion and dedication to the project shines through all the way through its three hour running time. Such dedication won the film multiple Oscars (11 to be precise) Cameron himself took home 4 in one night, cementing his status as one of the most successful filmmakers of our generation.
This is one of the best films to grace the cinema. The sheer might and size of the picture doesn't dwarf the actors, who are given the chance to breath and connect us to one of the most infamous tragedies in history. A sharp criticism of man's hubris, and a stirring tribute to those who lost their lives that night. Such is how I can describe Titanic.
Schindler's List (1993)
Spielberg' Finest Artistic Achievement
Candles slowly burn during the Shabbat in a Jewish household. After many hours of burning and illumination, the flame goes out and gives off ominously rising smoke and reveals the black and white image that snuck in as the candles shrunk. Such is the tone that is set for the rest of the film Schindler's List, Steven Spielberg's tribute/justice to the millions of Jewish people slaughtered during the Holocaust.
This particular chapter of the Holocaust is the portrait of the mysterious Oskar Schindler, and his actions during the war in Poland. We see him begin as an opportunist businessman, who wines and dines with the Nazi higher ups in exchange to receive funding for a factory he wishes to profit from. For both parties, Jews are considered "cheap labor," therefore Schindler hires Itzhak Stern to handle rounding up a workforce in his new factory. Stern is really trying to save as many people as the "Herr Direktor" will allow from certain death. Over the course of the film, something changes in Schindler that drives him to save "his Jews" because he begins to realize the atrocities being committed around him, and that he must make a difference, even at the risk of losing his life in the process.
Every actor in this film is perfect, no matter how big or small the role is. Liam Neeson gives his best work here as the complicated Schindler. It could have been a stereotypical "revelation" motivated performance, but Neeson never condescends to a perfunctory level. He is complimented in his performance by Ben Kingsley as the loyal and determined Stern. The actor who steals the film is Ralph Fiennes as Amon Goeth. He, like Neeson, has the hardest task of any actor, to give humanity to someone who is morally reprehensible on paper. His is one of those performances that was robbed of the recognition it deserved.
Much like the film The Shawshank Redemption, this film delves into the souls of the people in the middle of a dark situation. Schindler himself is an enigma. here we have a man who begins thinking about only himself and his money, but realizes what his actions mean in the big picture of what's going on. As the film progresses, he begins to care about the people he has saved, and pours every ounce of energy and every cent of his money to make sure that they do not suffer the same fate as those who couldn't be saved. The character of Stern acts as his moral compass, convincing his boss that what he is doing is right. He does not always agree with his boss' logic, but works to make sure no one is killed or taken away to the ovens. The evil incarnate character Amon Goeth, is also conflicted by his feelings about this whole affair for one reason. He too hates the Jews with a brainwashed passion, but ironically falls in love with his Jewish housemaid. He struggles to come to terms with this fact while still managing to shoot Jews at random for sport.
Director Steven Spielberg and writer Steve Zaillian take a really smart approach to the material, by not making the characters one-dimensional or motivated by a cheap cliché. We are never really clued into what makes Schindler change his mind about his workers until the very end of the film, which is a brilliant storytelling masterstroke.
There is absolutely nothing glamorous at all in this film, which lends its greater sense of verisimilitude. The cinematography is in black-and-white, as it should be. If it had been in color, it would have been all wrong. Spielberg and Janusz Kaminski shoot this like a documentary, lending itself to far more realistic shots and actions than a straightforward drama. The violence is truly gut-wrenching and sickening, but again, it is an accurate view of what happened in real life. The disturbing image of bodies burning and the billowing smoke from the Auschwitz chimney won't leave one's mind for years after seeing this film. The girl in the red coat is the most haunting image from the film, as the filmmakers wished to convey the confusion of how people didn't even know this was happening, even though it "stuck out like a girl wearing a red coat." Spielberg knew just when to add color to the film, the moments when there is true despair or hope at the end of the film
This film is made all the more haunting because of the first-rate score by John Williams. Backed with the violinist Itzhak Perlman, Williams delivers one of the best scores in eternity, and one that is never overblown. Both use their beauty to convey a dark passage in history, but most importantly, to highlight the success of the people saved.
At a first glance, it would seem Spielberg was the wrong man to make this film, as his focus in his early career was on entertainment films and escapist images. With this film, we see him blossom into a true artist. He does not mince images or words in this film whatsoever. He presents the events depicted like it was, stark and hopeless. Spielberg so poured his heart into this material that it was reported that he sobbed every day during filming, but wouldn't relent in telling this story. This film is the greatest achievement in his career, not only in terms of Oscars and recognition, but his transformation as an artist.