The Pianist Review
By Shawn McKenzie 12/31/2002
I dreaded having to see this movie. Oh, how I didn’t want to see this movie. You don’t know how burned out I am with World War II era war/Holocaust movies. In addition, this movie is almost two and a half hours long. I almost considered just skipping it, but a couple of things made me go. First, it won the Golden Palm, the top award at the Cannes Film Festival. Second, the legendary Roman Polanski directed it. Finally, I needed a movie to review (I gotta feed the beast!) After I did see The Pianist, I’m glad I did, because it wasn’t the boring torture-fest I thought it was going to be.
The Pianist starts out in Warsaw in 1939. Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody) is a gifted pianist who specialized in played Chopin pieces, which he did over Polish radio. He played the last live music heard over Polish radio airwaves before Nazi artillery hit. He and his family, including his father (Frank Finlay), his mother (Maureen Lipman), his older brother Henryk (Ed Stoppard), and his two sisters Regina (Julia Raynor) and Halina (Jessica Kate Meyer), are all captured and sent to the Warsaw ghetto. The Nazis then decide to exterminate some of the Jews in the ghetto, so they begin deporting them to the concentration camps. As he and his family are being loaded up on the trains to be shipped away to the camps, a former friend named Itzak Heller (Roy Smiles), now a Nazi collaborator working as an auxiliary police officer, saves him by pulling him out of the line. He spends the next couple of years moving from hideout to hideout, helped by Jewish sympathizers, including a cellist he had met earlier named Dorota (Emilia Fox), and a singer named Janina (Ruth Platt) with her husband Bogucki (Ronan Vibert.) He might have had a romance with Dorota, but the war got in the way. After he can’t make it to any more safe houses, he spends the last part of the war in the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto. It is there he is confronted by a music-loving Nazi soldier named Captain Wilm Hosenfeld (Thomas Kretschmann), who helps Szpilman ride out the rest of the war after an impromptu performance given by the pianist.
Why wasn’t this movie as boring as I thought it was going to be? It’s mainly because they gave the main character some hope without getting sentimental. Throughout his hiding, he witnesses some horrible things being done to his fellow Jews, but he manages to survive. In fact, it seems he is in the safest place for most of the movie during all the carnage. Brody plays Szpilman perfectly, making him look shocked at first to the things that were going around him, then desensitized. He also pulls a Tom Hanks from Cast Away and gets more skeletal as the movie goes on.
In addition, like Cast Away, this is pretty much a one man show, which is one of its problems. It’s not that I expected a lot of dialogue in a movie that is about a single man surviving the war (something I heard people complaining about Cast Away…the lack of dialogue, that is), but I wanted to see more development of some of the supporting characters. I will say that the movie does basically start once he is separated from his family. Speaking of his family…that brings up another problem. I know it is an American critic trait to want closure, but I didn’t understand why the notes at the end say what happened to Szpilman, and even what the fate of Captain Hosenfeld, but what about his family and friends? That kind of irked me.
The Pianist is definitely not for everyone. I don’t think young kids should see it, because it is coldly brutal with its violence (I think some old people walked out of the screening after seeing some of it.) Also, if you are tired of Holocaust movies, after seeing about a zillion of them since Schindler’s List, this movie explores little new ground. If you want to see an uncensored, unapologetic movie about the reality of the Holocaust and how one man’s survival of it, then by all means, check it out. It’s not one of my favorite movies of the year, but it is far from boring.
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