David James
March 12, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

Schindler's List

Current Status
In Season
197 minutes
Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Liam Neeson, Embeth Davidtz, Caroline Goodall, Jonathan Sagall
Steven Spielberg
MCA, Universal
Steven Zaillian
War, Biography, Historical, Drama
We gave it an A

Steven Spielberg crafted his landmark Holocaust story Schindler’s List to look like a documentary, using black-and-white film to give it a newsreel authenticity and employing Steven Zaillian’s straight-forward screenplay as a template that consistently rejects melodrama and lets the barbarity speak for itself. But so immediate and unadorned are the horrors therein that I haven’t brought myself to watch the 1993 Best Picture — about the enigmatic Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a war profiteer who saved 1,100 Jews from the concentration camps — since I first saw it 10 years ago. (I know I’m not alone.)

My second viewing, then, comes on the release of this tastefully packaged inaugural DVD. It’s a chance to take notice of elements I never fully appreciated before — like John Williams’ subdued score and Fiennes’ haunting portrayal of a labor camp commandant. Above all, there’s Oscar winner Spielberg’s impressive discipline. How difficult must it have been for him to hold his anger in check and make a movie in which two primary characters are Nazis? How challenging to repeatedly film such violence and not blink?

Without a director’s commentary track or many other bells and whistles, the DVD barely flirts with answering questions like these. But it’s just as well; the movie alone would be enough. The supplements we do get, however, are worthwhile — two documentaries, one a brief introduction to Spielberg’s educationally minded Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, the other a feature-length film in which surviving Schindler Jews vividly recall their ravaged Polish community and the German-Catholic industrialist who saved them. ”Schindler was not an angel,” says Leon Leyson. ”He didn’t mind taking bribes and giving bribes. But he did a wonderful thing.”

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