The Pianist (2002)
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"No I'm sorry I don't know any Polkas."
Roman Polanski has made some great movies (Chinatown, Rosemary's Baby). He's also made some dreadful ones (Pirates, The Ninth Gate). Nothing he's done in the past could possibly prepare me for the experience that is The Pianist. As brilliant as Chinatown is, this could very well be Polanski's masterpiece.
Based on the book, The Pianist follows Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody), a Jewish pianist who must endure the horrors of the holocaust. In epic fashion, Szpilman comes face to face with death on numerous occasions, and is forced to witness the murders of countless human beings.
As I watched The Pianist, Schindler's List (my all time favorite film) did spring to mind, but this is an entirely different kind of journey. Spielberg's career defining achievement certainly had character, but it was more about a horrifying situation. I found The Pianist to be a little more intimate in terms of scale. And whereas Schindler's List's primary focus was on Oscar Schindler, The Pianist is from the point of view of a Jewish man who has nearly everything taken from him.
Brody is absolutely superb as Szpilman. This is an amazing performance in which Brody gives an emotionally devastating turn, while bringing a realistic physicality to the role as well. At one point in this picture, Szpilman becomes very ill, and Brody brings such realism to these moments that I forgot I was watching an actor in a movie.
Polanski has fashioned more than a movie with The Pianist. This is a document. This is a very personal film and Polanski let's the brutality speak for itself. And I must admit, there were moments in this picture that were extremely painful to watch. But perhaps the most powerful and unexpected moments come in the final act as Szpilman finds himself surviving with death and carnage all around him. Why and how is something that even he can't answer. What becomes of him I will not reveal in this review, but Polanski paints such a shocking, realistic picture, that I began to question whether or not I would even want to survive in a similar situation.
The Pianist is a shocking glimpse into one of the darkest chapters of world history. It's also a movie about survival and what many would do to stay alive under such terrifying circumstances. Polanski doesn't back off. He shows us everything, and this includes things I wasn't expecting. The Pianist isn't only a story about the holocaust. It's also a penetrating look at human nature. Good and bad. This is one of the very best films of 2002.
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