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the Pianist
starring: Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Frank Finlay

by david    January 20, 2003

Adrien Brody is 2002's best actor. Period. Nobody this year, however challenging his role may appear, does anything close to what this guy does to himself, emotionally and physically, in the Pianist. Nicholson? Nope. Cage? Nope. Brody is the man this year.

So, I loved the acting in the Pianist. How, then, you might ask, do I feel about the rest of the film? Let me put it to you this way: this film is often almost too real to watch. Listen, I'm a young guy (pushing 30, yes, but that's still pretty young, right?). I wasn't around to experience the world during the Vietnam War, much less during World War II. I know a fair amount about WWII, but only in the strictest academic sense -- everything I know about that war has come from textbooks and movies and television. So when I watch a movie like the Pianist (I use "like" loosely -- apart from one episode of Band of Brothers, I've never seen anything that even compares to the Pianist), I am stricken with horror. The Pianist takes fear, and pain, and hate, and grief, and atrocity, and lays them bare and quivering on the screen. It's horrible and wonderful to watch. The Pianist makes me a little ashamed to be a human being -- ashamed that we can do this to each other. The Pianist makes me a little ashamed to be an American -- that our leaders let us stand by and do nothing while such atrocity was taking place so far from our borders. But, more importantly, the Pianist makes me proud to be an actor and an artist and part of a generation who is unafraid to confront the horrors of our human past. I can't really, emotionally, even begin to understand the pain of the Jews who survived WWII, or even the pain their children and children's children suffer -- I'm a middle-class white kid from farm country, U.S.A., with nary a real care in the world. But seeing a movie like this helps me to understand, intellectually, at least, the horror of the situation. And, I think that understanding is important -- understanding each other is the first step toward a real global community.

Okay, so maybe I'm just full of shit. Anyway, back to the movie itself: it's the true story of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a young and locally famous radio pianist in Warsaw, Poland at the beginning of what would become WWII. As the Nazi occupation of Poland becomes more and more about the eradication of the Jewish people, he loses his family and nearly everyone he knows to either the Nazi guns or the Concentration Camps, and himself to loneliness and despair. The writing is extraordinary -- spare and beautiful. The direction is top notch -- Polanski manages to supress his usually heavy-handed direction in order to let this deeply personal story (Polanski, himself, is a Holocaust survivor) breath on it's own. And, as I've said, the acting is really top notch and the story itself is utterly heart-wrenching. The impact this movie had on me is difficult to describe without sounding like an enormous ass (see the above paragraph), but it's definitely one of my favorite movies this year.

And, again, in case you missed it, Adrien Brody gives, without question, the best acting work this year, and among the best I've ever seen. That, alone, is worth seeing this movie.

[NOTE: Edited 01/22/03 for atrocious grammatical errors. I should never write a review at 3am.]


One Hour Photo
starring: Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen, Michael Vartan

by david    January 20, 2003

I wouldn't call One Hour Photo a taut psychological thriller (especially since, as one of a bazillion new films to be told entirely in flashback, we know what happens to the main character from moment 1 -- why the hell do writers keep using this unsatisfying convention? Here's a hint for aspiring writers -- it's not a "thriller" if we already know what happens!), it is a pretty creepy film. And Robin Williams, as King Creepy, gives what might be his best performance to date. He fully commits, in every way, to his sad, delusional character, and the result is truly compelling.

As good as Williams is, though, he's unable to drag the script and the other actors out of their mediocrity. And, in the end, that's really all I have to say: apart from some inspired art direction and a brilliant performance by Robin Williams, One Hour Photo is a mediocre movie. It's not bad, exactly, but there are so many better movies to be seen, and most of us have only got so much time. If you really wanna see Robin act his pants off, rent this. Otherwise, were I you, I'd pass.

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