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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 The Ultimate Dancing Machine

"Mr. Polanski's Opus"
3 stars

Fiction writers who go epic are often said to be attempting the Great American Novel—a not altogether complimentary term that tends to imply pretentiousness and overreaching rather than tangible achievement. In the same sense, Roman Polanski has just attempted the Great Polish Movie, a two-and-a-half hour number about the Nazi occupation of Poland and the ensuing slaughter of the Jewish populace. It is the kind of movie—big, serious, and “inspiring”--that awards juries love; not surprisingly, THE PIANIST has already taken the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. But I think the approbation of the Cannes jury was effectively an “A” for effort. Though undeniably well produced, this is a sterile, standoffish film that inadvertently trivializes a very big subject.

Based on true events, it’s told through the viewpoint of one Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody), a young Jewish pianist who escaped death by leading a subterranean existence under the noses of the occupying army, eventually finding a savior in the person of—incredibly—a Nazi (Thomas Kretschmann) who liked music.

Polanski, working from a script by Ronald Harwood, opens The Pianist in media res, with bombs falling on Warsaw and the Szpilman family trying to escape harm’s way. Have no fear, though, that you won’t get your bearings, as the characters don’t have dialogue, only exposition. We’re talking about the kind of screenwriting where people continually read newspaper articles at each other so we’ll know what’s happening, where when one character claims that x-number of Jews live in Warsaw, another corrects the figure. Harwood’s script is “well made” in the worst sense of the term—it moves from Point A to Point B smoothly enough, but like everything else in The Pianist, it feels processed.

Polanski doesn’t spare us the unpleasantness of the Nazi occupation. The Nazis depicted here are a bloodthirsty lot, given to shooting Jews for no special reason—but their mindless brutality is overdone. Polanski’s Nazis come across as stupid jocks; he’s so determined to portray them as the bad guys that he forgets he doesn’t need to convince us. They’re cartoonishly one-dimensional, to the extent that they’re listed in the credits as, for example, “The SS Officer who slaps the father” and “SS Officer who shoots Benek.” From the evidence of this movie, you’d be hard-pressed to explain how these yahoos took over one of the biggest industrial nations in the world. (It is perhaps telling that Hitler is never mentioned.) They’re such buffoons that when Kretschmann appears in the third act, you know he’s the Good Nazi simply cause he doesn’t immediately start slapping Jews around.

The Warsaw Ghetto featured in The Pianist is an antiseptic place, so garishly lit that in many scenes the actors scarcely cast shadows. You begin to suspect that you’re watching the Masterpiece Theatre Holocaust—even the bodies lying on the ground seem calculatedly placed. The art direction is simply too clean; everything tends to look artificial. When a haggard Szpilman emerges into the daylight to find his city destroyed, it’s an impressive sight, but you’re aware that you’re looking at a very expensive set. It’s an odd fault from the man who gave us the claustrophobically bloody MacBeth.

Szpilman, competently played by Adrien Brody, never really comes alive as a character. He’s a lover of music—we’re reminded of this whenever he overhears a snatch of music and a beatific expression falls over his face—but he’s so passive a character that his passions fail to move us. It’s not that Szpilman is a helpless onlooker. Under the circumstances, what else could he be? But Polanski needed to compensate for this by giving him dimension—here he fails. We’re given far too many scenes where Szpilman stares out of windows at terrible things happening in the street. (His physical deterioration provides another example of too-perfect art direction: he’s supposed to look emaciated, but he seems merely unshaven.) THE PIANIST has virtually nothing to say about the power of music, as Szpilman’s talent becomes just a vague catchall symbol for What They Can’t Take Away From Us. It feels too pat.

To Polanski’s credit, he never descends into pure mawkishness; if this movie is a failure, it is not that kind of failure (imagine what a Randall Wallace, for instance, might have done with this material). But good intentions don't necessarily translate into good movies.

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originally posted: 12/03/02 13:09:59
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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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