Although he will forever be identified with pop culture classics such as Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Steven Spielberg has never made a film greater than this searing drama about a Nazi industrialist who saved more than 1,000 Jews from certain death in concentration camps during World War II. Broadly based on the book by Australian writer Thomas Keneally, Schindler's List gets underway in 1939 after Hitler's army conquers Poland. Nazi supporter Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson, delivering the standout performance of his career) arranges to staff a major company with unpaid Jews ultimately destined for extermination, among them accountant Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley), who becomes his right-hand man. The initially mercenary Schindler gradually becomes attuned to the plight of his workers and arranges to employ nearly 1,000 Jews in his crockery plant -- an effort that requires his careful handling of ghastly Commandant Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes), who runs the forced-labor camp housing the doomed people.
For this film Spielberg eschews his customary storytelling techniques, using black-and-white film for a gritty look and shooting much of the footage with handheld cameras, documentary style. Period detail is replicated with astonishing accuracy, and you'll get the sense of being right there alongside the characters.
The film is extremely long -- well over three hours -- but it unfolds with such urgency that you're never conscious of its length. Neeson is absolutely sensational as the towering industrialist whose innate humanity eventually comes to the fore, and Fiennes, then a virtual newcomer, is sublimely odious as the amoral labor-camp commander. Crafted to perfection and absolutely seamless in its presentation, Schindler's List is a truly unforgettable movie, and the crowning achievement of this generation's most successful filmmaker.