SCHINDLER'S LIST is simply the best movie of the decade (and the second movie I've ever given a 10 to on "the list"). As upsetting as the movie is to watch, it is gripping and wondrous.
The movie opens quietly with a pre-war Polish Jewish family lighting candles and saying prayers on Friday night. The family vanishes, and, in time, the candles burn out.
The scene switches to a man carefully dressing, stuffing his hand with money & carefully pinning a Nazi pin to his lapel. He is a shadowy figure, paying his way to get a fine table at a fancy restaurant in Krakow, and catching the eye of some Nazi officers. Schindler is just a glad-handing business man making contacts and buying influence. Soon his wining and dining pays off, as he acquires a factory recently taken by the government as it was Jewish-owned.
Schindler's one ambition in life is to retire with several steamer trunks of money. He sees running a pot factory in wartime Krakow as the way to riches. He finds the accountant who used to manage the books for the factory and urges him to come to work for him. Mr. Klein, cautiously played by Ben Kingsley, reluctantly agrees. Since Jews are cheap labor, Schindler tells Mr. Klein to find people to work for him.
Klein serves as Schindler's conscience at a time when Schindler does not seem to have one. Granted, Schindler is not a murdering Nazi, but he's hardly a "nice" man, either. So Klein rounds up friends, many of whom have never worked in a factory, and rescues them from deportation. ("But I have a vital job, I'm a history teacher!" one man protests as the Nazis force him on a truck.) Schindler does not complain about all the on-the-job training, and is soon backing the necessity of his workers after the Nazis shoot one for failing to shovel snow fast enough for them.
War and war-atrocities continue to dehumanize the unthinking Nazis in this film (and if the film does have a weakness, it is that the Nazis are so unrelentingly bad its as if they were not human), but it abruptly humanizes Schindler. The script is intelligent, the performances feel completely real, and Spielberg deserves enormous credit for directing this masterpiece. Liam Neeson, a long under-recognized actor, gives an extraordinary performance in this movie.
One wonders how much of himself Spielberg may have seen in Schindler. For years, it looked like Spielberg only wanted to make money. He has taken risks at least three times with his films: THE COLOR PURPLE, EMPIRE OF THE SUN and now with SCHINDLER'S LIST. With SCHINDLER'S LIST, he's completely fled from any hint of commercial exploitation and has just made a great movie.