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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 16.15%
Average: 13.08%
Pretty Bad: 3.08%
Total Crap: 0.77%

6 reviews, 94 user ratings

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Pianist, The
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by EricDSnider

"OK, the Holocaust was bad. I GET IT."
3 stars

The source of our discontent with "The Pianist" does not become apparent until the final seconds, when title cards inform us that what we have seen -- a Polish man fleeing the Nazis during World War II -- is a true story.

Ah, that's it! The filmmakers have fallen prey to the classic syndrome of assuming a story will be interesting just because it is true. In the pursuit of being true to Wladyslaw Szpilman's real story (the film is based on his autobiography), director Roman Polanski has neglected what separates a good film from a great one: the narrative.

The narrative in "The Pianist" is too simple, too uneventful. Wladyslaw (played by American actor Adrien Brody), a classical pianist for Polish radio in Warsaw, hides from the Nazis with his family, then continues to hide, then flees, then hides somewhere else, and so on. Polanski tinkers with the idea that music somehow helps Wladyslaw survive, but that theme is left undeveloped until, suddenly, it plays a pivotal role in a pivotal scene. Basically, the film wanders for nearly 2 1/2 hours, telling a story that is inspiring, but no more so than the dozens of other Holocaust films we've seen in the past half-century.

Wladyslaw's attempts to contact a woman he once had a crush on, while probably portrayed close to how they actually occurred, don't work in the film. The efforts seem to be taking the story somewhere, but they turn out to be rather unimportant in the overall scheme of things. The woman is included in the film simply because she existed in real life, too -- but unless you're making a documentary, "because it really happened" is not reason enough to include something in your film.

Polanski is a long way from his best work ("Chinatown," "Rosemary's Baby"), but he gets quite a few things marvelously right in "The Pianist." There is an eerie, horrific scene where Wladyslaw's family watches as the apartment house across the street is invaded and a resident is thrown off the balcony. The family, like the audience, is a mute witness, watching from a distance. Other noteworthy moments include the awesome visuals of Wladyslaw playing while his radio station is being bombed, and the apocalyptic ghetto he discovers near the end.

In general, Polanski successfully conveys the random brutality of the Nazi occupation, with death at every turn and survival not guaranteed to anyone.

Adrien Brody's performance as Wladyslaw is key to the film; the character appears in nearly every frame. Curiously, despite the amount of time we spend with him, we do not come to know him very well. He seems to be a quiet, reserved man -- but that may be only because he is in hiding for most of the film. What drives him? What keeps him alive? His love of music? Again, that notion is not given substantial support within the movie. He is a cipher.

As a young boy, Polanski himself escaped from the Warsaw ghetto and wandered through the Polish countryside for much of the war. His mother died in a concentration camp. He has a great vested interest in this story, and one hesitates to criticize such a personal film. It is akin to correcting the grammar in someone's diary.

Nonetheless, as much sympathy as we may have for Polanski the man, that only carries over so far into sympathy for Polanski the filmmaker. "The Pianist" has the noblest of intentions and bears many marks of excellent filmmaking, but ultimately, there is very little to distinguish it from a history book. It's the sort of movie that builds character, like visiting a sick aunt or eating vegetables.

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originally posted: 07/05/03 17:21:37
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/30/13 The Big D Grim account of the devastation the Nazis caused--watch it for historical significance. 4 stars
11/27/10 Yael Lenkinski Unbelievable! Masterful and horrifying. Adrian Brody was amazing. 5 stars
3/30/07 fools♫gold As passionately pinching as "Dead Man Walking"! 5 stars
1/23/07 MP Bartley Schindler's Lite 3 stars
12/14/06 Xan It's my opinion it's very good movie ;] 5 stars
11/27/06 Bitchflaps Overwraught and uninvolving. 2 stars
11/22/06 DarkEnchantress it was good, and funny because he never left his damn watermelon! 5 stars
11/14/06 ericka sanchez is a excelente movie 5 stars
11/03/06 KATIA LOVED THE MOVIE!!! 5 stars
10/08/06 edgar mahe this movie should be given 5 stars no less great performance 5 stars
7/12/06 ian afford surprisingly good 4 stars
3/20/06 Jason B A worthy riposte to Adorno's claim "that there can be no poetry after Auschwitz" 4 stars
9/20/05 Carlos Great Movie 5 stars
9/16/05 Daveman Better than Schindler's List, as if that really takes much. 2 stars
9/11/05 Ashleigh Yucky, Gruesome-kinda 4 stars
9/10/05 Alex so the guy outlasted them all, eh? 1 stars
8/19/05 ES Dry, but had its moments, better than the english patient 3 stars
8/08/05 Moctezuma Classic 5 stars
4/04/05 indrid cold Quite overrated. Schindler's List makes this look like extremely pointless and ponderous. 3 stars
3/15/05 brody WOW..... 5 stars
3/06/05 dr Dre yo mi homie bruthaz this is mad u must c it ppl its fully sick'a 5 stars
1/23/05 revenge of the poo-nuggets BRODY IS A NEVA 5 stars
1/05/05 magaafi you feel great for having freedom after this 5 stars
12/29/04 Steve Newman Movie title put me off - I am so embaressed. What a fantastic film - off to buy the dvd 5 stars
12/15/04 Tom Benton Polanski's best film by far, a war masterpiece; Brody is outstanding. 5 stars
10/26/04 ELI Chicago was better, but this movie good too! :) 5 stars
10/25/04 Andy Boy A meaningful movie - it reaches out to the soul. 4 stars
10/04/04 Daveman Despite nice photography and high detail, the Pianist just doesn't go anywhere new. 2 stars
9/26/04 Tor Honolulu Dude if you feel asleep its your loss. Wake up and see this, you'll be glad you did 5 stars
7/28/04 Mike Devans Yawn. I fell asleep 2 stars
7/25/04 Drew-P Brody will never be able to top this. 5 stars
5/16/04 KRG1 The best film of 2003...a true masterpiece 5 stars
4/15/04 Charlene Javier Ranks up there with Schindler's List. 5 stars
3/28/04 Margie great movie. such a moving subject obviously, but the music (or lack of) adds soo much 5 stars
3/27/04 Gretchen good movie, sometimes sad but moving 4 stars
3/26/04 Vikki Fox very poignant but slow at times and very depressing 4 stars
1/23/04 Chloe Brody This movie was amazing - Adrien at his finest! 5 stars
1/22/04 Kutty A very sincere and practical movie 5 stars
1/18/04 noeline mcintosh fantastic 5 stars
1/10/04 Charles Tatum "Schindler's List"-good 5 stars
12/01/03 s. pye still stunned that it relly happened. 4 stars
11/27/03 John most shokingly real portrayal of the holocaust yet...Polanski at his best 5 stars
11/18/03 CHlo GYllenhaal this was fucking amazing...i love adrian brody 5 stars
10/24/03 hayley and melanie Good interesting movie, a little sad at times 4 stars
10/17/03 Suzanne McNaughton sad, thought provoking, nail-biting and inspiring , really enjoyed this movie 5 stars
10/09/03 Elise Wolmarans Very moving, I was there! 5 stars
10/07/03 Sonja Kennedy Brilliant and very real 5 stars
9/29/03 Hooters gurl Didn't like the reference to socialism, but other than was tits! 5 stars
9/29/03 Honolulu Tur Just terrific; should have won Best Pic too but can't complain since Adrien & Roman won 5 stars
9/17/03 Jinnvisible a subtle masterpiece "Awesome" don`t really say it 5 stars
9/13/03 K. Morris Sobering, Empowering and Insightful! 5 stars
8/18/03 Flounder A very powerful and haunting of a survivor of the Holocaust 5 stars
8/16/03 R.W. Welch Has a few weak spots but overall a captivating WWII survival tale. 4 stars
8/09/03 mister great movie 5 stars
6/08/03 May Q. Horney What an insult to nominate this alongside garbage like SHITCAGO! 5 stars
5/29/03 A film observer A finer Holocaust film won't be made, because no director will be left who lived it. 5 stars
5/02/03 lauren great 5 stars
4/28/03 Lesly great movie. touching, emotional and so real.. Props to Brody 5 stars
4/24/03 Ralph R. Clemente Most important film of the last 10 years 5 stars
4/17/03 skye brutal. must see once. 4.5 stars 5 stars
3/29/03 Suzz Fine film; very fine performance by Brody. 4 stars
3/20/03 Shadaan Felfeli I cannot recommend this film enough. Oscars please ! 5 stars
3/08/03 Sam Sorrons No words can discribe this 5 stars
3/08/03 Matthew Smith a repellent experience, although it still is an interesting film 3 stars
3/08/03 Dee Martin Brody and Polanski should both win an Oscar. Nothing less. 5 stars
3/07/03 Edith the Maid and Meredith the Mermaid Polanski deserves Oscar for this and a pardon so he can accept it! 5 stars
3/03/03 John Bale Yet another Holocaust drama, albeit a powerful yet harrowing one. Polanski's Triumph. 5 stars
2/13/03 Mopsa I expected something better, but it's a good movie and Brody is terrific 4 stars
2/06/03 Taje Amazing, Dark, and Hauntingly Real. A film that everyone must see... 5 stars
2/02/03 rue the whirl gut-wrenchingly good film making 5 stars
2/01/03 Goofy Maxwell As in "My Left Foot", the sole expression of the soul emits from the digits. 5 stars
1/28/03 stephan cenzo incredible, strongly disagree with reviewer, situations and characters self evident 5 stars
1/27/03 Margaret Depicts the sad reality of WWII, moving, powerful! A must see! 5 stars
1/26/03 Adam Thanks God, this film is not a Hollywood version of history 5 stars
1/24/03 Don Guno this is one of the best films I have seen in a long time, Brody was great! 5 stars
1/22/03 Ben Better and less sappy than Schindler's List. A+ 5 stars
1/21/03 Christina One of the most powerful and important films I have ever seen 5 stars
1/20/03 bster "even the bodies lying on the ground seem calculatedly placed" ever seen a Polanski film? 4 stars
1/19/03 The Best 5 stars
1/19/03 Grampy Grehl Excellent! Feel the horror without the banality 5 stars
1/19/03 Rider in the Bloo Better than Schindler's List. Less melodramatic, and more to the point but still powerful. 5 stars
1/19/03 lily great! 5 stars
1/17/03 Wladislaw A humane, convincing account of the holocaust. Never seen anything like it. Superb & Timely 5 stars
1/16/03 Angolmois AveragAverage First Hour, but the Final Hour Is Quite Excellent. A Lot of Memorable Scenes. 4 stars
1/16/03 michael nightingale It was great!...though, i would've liked to seen more coverage of the ghetto uprising 4 stars
1/15/03 Wadyslaw Roman Polanski make the best movie in Poland 5 stars
1/14/03 Conrad Go see it! 5 stars
1/11/03 David Best film about the holocaust I've seen, and a remarkable true story 5 stars
1/08/03 Jim Only average 3 stars
1/06/03 Yael Lenkinski One of the best movies I have ever seen. Adrien Brody should win an oscar as should Polansk 5 stars
1/05/03 stan excellent powerful 5 stars
12/21/02 Me Not U A soon-to-be classic from Polanski. The last hour is breathtaking! 5 stars
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  27-Dec-2002 (R)



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