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"The Pianist"

Directed by Roman Polanski.
Written by Ronald Harwood.  Based on the book by Wladyslaw Szpilman.
Starring Adrien Brody.
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  1/15/03 


Hey, “The Pianist” is one of the most acclaimed films of 2002, and my Sunday night movie club picked this one for last Sunday, so I definitely had to hang out.  I mean, how often does the great Roman Polanski make films?

The winner of the Palme D’or at Cannes last year, and the winner of the National Society of Film Critics Best Picture Award, “The Pianist” is clearly loved by the press.  I could see why after coming out of the theater on this one—this story of a Jewish pianist (Adrien Brody) in Germany during World War II is often gripping.  Based on a true story, we follow a pianist named Szpilman (Brody) in 1939 Warsaw that is taken from his home, along with his family, to the Jewish Ghetto and moved multiple times over the course of five years from the projects to the ghettos as he struggles to survive extermination efforts by the Nazis before the Allies can come in to save the day.

For me, it doesn’t matter how many times I see these Holocaust films, they are always stunning in their portrayal of Nazi hate crimes.  “The Pianist” doesn’t get very gory, but its violent visuals really will be tough for you to sit through if you want to see this film.  A large number of Jews are killed execution-style, and later, as the Jews fight back against their Nazi oppressors in the ghetto, the well-choreographed battle scenes show us dozens of innocents mowed down by machine gun fire throughout the two-and-a-half hour film.  Make no mistake—“The Pianist” is as bleak as bleak can get, and you’ll probably walk out of the theater after shedding a few tears and shaking your head at all that takes place here.

Brody, who is essentially the whole film, is excellent here.  He is not too talkative, and that is fine, because his consistently-grim facial expressions speak much louder than dialogue ever would.  As he goes from respected pianist to manual laborer to slave to runaway, he makes for a solid lead performer and is eminently watchable.  The support from the actors playing Szpilman’s family are very good, and a late cameo by Thomas Kretschmann as a German officer that tries to help Szpilman is very effective in the film’s late moments.  The film is beautifully shot, its minimalist score effective, and features a perfect ending—short and sweet.

There isn’t much bad to say about “The Pianist”, save for its long running time.  One assumes that it will be nominated for Best Picture, given its multitude of other awards, and it is a deserving choice.  Check it out, as long as you remember that you are not going to be in for a pick-me-up.

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09