The Pianist Movie Review

An emotionally and factually detailed, uniquely personal true story of day-by-day Holocaust survival, "The Pianist" is a labor of passion on the part of director Roman Polanski (who as a child escaped German-occupied Cracow), a monument to those who persevered through the Nazi onslaught and a memorial to those who could not.

It's the story of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a composer and musician who played -- throughout a German a bombing run -- the last live music heard on the radio in Warsaw as the city was invaded in 1939. It's the story of how he felt hope because Britain and France entered the war, even as his family was one of thousands forced into a small, walled-and-razor-wired ghetto in 1940.

It's the story of how he eluded deportation to concentration camps in 1942 by hiding in the ghetto as it was emptied by German soldiers, how he became a laborer while the Nazi's had use for slaves, and how he escaped and bore witness from a distance to the month-long Warsaw uprising while starving and wracked with guilt in a series of empty apartments where he was concealed by sympathizers throughout the war.

And it's a film whose every moment bristles with the weight of these events on Szpilman's psyche, thanks to a devastating performance by Adrien Brody, an actor naturally adept to characterizing bottomless depth with minimal outward manifestation. Brody ("Summer of Sam," "Harrison's Flowers") is on screen nearly every minute of this two-and-a-half-hour film, and the walking-wounded state of shock he portrays permeates the screen in a way that sneaks into the senses and rattles the soul.

Polanski's powerful, diary-like recreation of specific dates during the Nazi occupation lends enormous weight to the fact that this film is not fiction. In one year, Szpilman (whose autobiography was the basis for the film) saw Warsaw go from a place where he was a respected musician to a place where Jews weren't allowed in public parks and had to wear blue Star of David armbands in public. On October 31, 1940, he saw a virtual prison wall erected around a pre-determined "Jewish district." On August 16, 1942, he escaped the train taking people to the death camps and, in the film's most overwhelming moment, walks with tears in his eyes through the empty ghetto, strewn with debris from houses trashed and emptied by soldiers.

"The Pianist" bears witness to Szpilman's life as a prisoner and a fugitive, locked inside empty flats where he'd been hidden by the underground, having to keep quiet and out of sight, running out of food when his benefactors couldn't visit, unable to turn on the heat or the lights, and keeping a clear path for him to run and jump out the window to his death if he thought the Nazis were about to bust down the door.

While not profoundly moving -- at least in comparison to other films that take place inside the squalid, terrifying death camps that Szpilman managed to avoid -- "The Pianist" certainly captures another kind of horror faced by a lone man hiding for his life in the belly of the Nazi war machine. Nowhere is this reality more forcefully portrayed than when Szpilman comes face to face with a Nazi commandant (Thomas Kretschmann) scouting his latest hiding spot in the bombed-out suburbs for a temporary headquarters in the last months of the war. Forced to play a rubble-caked piano for the officer, he pours all the energy and life he has left in him into this performance that he's almost certain will be his last.

The extent to which Polanski and Brody (who was already skinny but lost a great deal of weight for the later scenes) immersed themselves in this story comes through most completely in this scene. It's clear from the long, single takes -- which include pans from hands to face and back -- that the actor learned not just to play piano, but to play well enough that he could express both immense fear and harmonious grace and splendor all at once in both his acting and his playing.

The terrible beauty of this moment is the movie's every emotion in a nutshell, and the astonishing results a testament to the humanity that can be found in the worst circumstances of dread one can imagine.


The Pianist Rating

" Good "

Rating: R, NY/LA: Friday, December 27, 2002<br> LIMITED: Friday, January 3, 2003


More Adrien Brody

Adrien Brody Is Magic Man, Harry Houdini, In New Series

David Copperfield baffles audiences with his illusions and David Blaine impresses with endurance acts and close-up magical mysteries but it was Harry Houdini that first...

Mini-Series 'Houdini', Starring Adrien Brody, Set To Premiere Monday

Adrien Brody is to star as Harry Houdini in an upcoming TV miniseries about the legendary illusionist and escape artist. The two part miniseries 'Houdini'...

'Third Person': Check Out The Trailer For Paul Haggis' "Russian Doll" Drama

The release of Paul Haggis' unique new drama, Third Person, is looming and fans can finally check out the trailer for the movie that had...

Third Person Trailer

Love is never uncomplicated and when a third person gets involved, it can make things even more difficult. Michael is an award-winning novelist who has...


'The Grand Budapest Hotel' Is An Instant Hit With Critics, In Praise Of Wes Anderson's Delightful New Movie [Trailer + Pictures]

The Grand Budapest Hotel is preparing to throw its doors open to the world, having premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in February. Director...

The Grand Budapest Hotel Movie Review

Wes Anderson's entertaining filmmaking style clicks beautifully into focus for this comical adventure. Films like The Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom are packed with amazing...

The Grand Budapest Hotel Trailer

The cast and crew of 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' discuss the story, the main characters' relationship and the duties of the concierge in the latest...

Adrien Brody Praises Director Wes Anderson At 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' Premiere

Adrien Brody gushes about 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' director Wes Anderson in a red carpet interview at the movie's premiere. Adrien plays the villainous Dmitri...