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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

FILM DETAILS
Certificate
15
Cast
Adrien Brody
Thomas Kretschmann
Daniel Caltagirone
Frank Finlay
Maureen Lipman.
Directors
Roman Polanski.
Screenwriters
Ronald Harwood.
Running Time
148 minutes

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The Pianist
Polanski's Holocaust drama, informed by his own childhood growing up in Krakow


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Plot
As the Nazis lay the groundwork for the Final Solution, concert pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish Jew, evades imprisonment in the Warsaw ghetto and begins a precarious existence on the increasingly war-ravaged streets of Poland.


Review
The critical consensus on Roman Polanski's intensely personal Holocaust drama is nigh on universal. Palme D'Or winner, best film at all the major European ceremonies including the BAFTAs, a trio of underdog victories at the Oscars for Polanski, Adrien Brody and screenwriter Ronald Harwood... And proud recipient of two (count 'em, two!) stars in the February (2003) issue of Empire.

For all the august award bodies who seized upon The Pianist with giddy glee 'Important Director Tackles Big Subject Alert! ' it is, in fact, relatively easy to overlook the appeal of what is a disarmingly simple story, shot and structured with lucid transparency.

Concert pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman's true-life tale of survival against all odds lacks the broad sweep of, say, Schlindler's List, but benefits enormously from the intimacy and immediacy of an eyewitness account. (Two eyewitnesses in fact, as Polanski himself escaped the Krakow ghetto.)

Where Spielberg set out to capture a large canvas with both economy and Èlan, Polanski's movie is uncluttered by technique and remarkably singular in purpose - supporting characters come and go only as they passed through Szpilman's life.

Naturally, such fidelity to the source material does create its own set of problems. The near-silent third act - Szpilman alone in the ruins of the ghetto - plays like an extended anecdote, a shaggy dog survival story, so to speak.

It is certainly a remarkable yarn, and Brody weighs in with an astonishing physical performance - his gait, his gaze, his very bones aching with hunger - but it is hard to shake the feeling that history is taking place elsewhere. And because this is a survivor's story, The Pianist never quite generates the sheer terror of Schlinder's List, where death could seemingly visit any character, at any time.

There are other niggles if you look for them - pacing is stately to the point of slack in places, and the early scenes of domestic bliss have a very perfunctory feel. But the meat of the story, which covers the creation and destruction of the Warsaw ghetto, is compelling stuff: equal parts absorbing adventure and stomach-churning tragedy.

And it is here, in the margins of Szpilman's story, where Polanski is - and any irony is duly noted - most comfortable, painstakingly recreating the almost incidental daily horrors that he himself lived through. The fact that the director never once caves into easy sentiment or cheap hectoring is almost as amazing as the story itself.


Verdict
Despite Polanski’s credentials, this is a slow-paced, monotonous experience devoid of dramatic tension and emotional contours.


Reviewed by Ian Freer


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Average user rating for The Pianist
Empire Star Rating

Excellent!

Loved it and was loving it until the end of the credits, even thou it had s list to compete with it did great! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ruddick at 14:56, 05 October 2013 | Report This Post


Excellent!

What a better day to watch this for the first time than on our National Liberation Day. Recommended to me by many in the past but I never got around to it. Until today. Wish I`d done it earlier. What a beautiful, moving film. Adrien Brody is brilliant and convincing in the leading part. The design of the film a sublime. Big sets, gorgeous art-direction and beautiful photography. Everything feels and looks really realistic, wich partly comes because of the fact that Polanski lived in this peri... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TheGodfather at 21:50, 05 May 2008 | Report This Post


A Grim, Grim, Excellent Movie

Great. Polanski's crowning achievement ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by blaud at 15:07, 06 February 2008 | Report This Post


A Grim, Grim, Excellent Movie

Great. Polanski's crowning achievement ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by blaud at 15:07, 06 February 2008 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

I thought that The pianist was as good as schindlers list. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Chris66 at 19:33, 02 December 2007 | Report This Post


RE:

I've had the privellage of listening to holocaust surviours speak about their experiences and several have pointed out that this film is, if not better, then more realistic than Schindler. With that in mind, you realise how truly remarkable this film is. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by The900MidNightBee at 16:23, 01 December 2007 | Report This Post


i really liked this ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bobbyperu at 17:32, 22 October 2007 | Report This Post


This film won a lot of Oscars and awards in 2003/2002 when it was released, however, despite being a heartwarming film, it is very majorly flawed. I'm surprised it is acclaimed as it was at the time - in retrospect, I suspect that its completely uncomprised view of the holocaust is probably what did it. There is some violent imagery which really sticks in your mind - such as an eldery disabled jew being thrown from a high window or the brutal shooting of a weeping woman. However, despite this... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ukedge87 at 10:55, 18 January 2007 | Report This Post


This film won a lot of Oscars and awards in 2003/2002 when it was released, however, despite being a heartwarming film, it is very majorly flawed. I'm surprised it is acclaimed as it was at the time - in retrospect, I suspect that its completely uncomprised view of the holocaust is probably what did it. There is some violent imagery which really sticks in your mind - such as an eldery disabled jew being thrown from a high window or the brutal shooting of a weeping woman. However, despite this... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ukedge87 at 10:55, 18 January 2007 | Report This Post


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