Schindler's List is not an easy film to stomach. Spielberg's decision to include so much graphically violent footage (plenty of scenes of women and children executed in cold, spurting blood) accomplishes the desired effect. Certainly, the subject matter calls for much of it, but Spielberg's bad guys are so quick to pull the trigger on defenseless innocents that the cumulative effect of all the carnage borders on cinematic overkill and flat-out manipulation. Just pray that he never directs one of your nightmares.

As the slaughter builds to a crescendo and the prospect of losing his employees to Auschwitz looms, Schindler undergoes something of an epiphany. He begins to see his workers as precious people, not just factory workers. He goes to bat for them in ways that increasingly jeopardize his own goodwill and clout with the Nazis. By the time he's spending his own fortune to retrieve a trainload of his people mistakenly routed to Auschwitz, the transformation is complete. Schindler has made the leap from bon vivant to folk hero.

Unfortunately, Spielberg is not content to end the story with the close of the war. After showing surprising (for him) restraint through most of the film, he returns to form by closing with a heavy-handed, mawkish epilogue.

By the end of the war Oskar Schindler was penniless, having spent the millions he made to rescue more than 1100 Jews. There can be no disputing the profundity of the man's feat: fewer than 4000 Jews live in Poland today, while the Schindlerjuden and their descendants around the world number more than 6000. Spielberg understood that the dichotomy between the profiteering playboy and the selfless savior made Oskar Schindler the perfect enigmatic protagonist to build a feature film around. It's too bad he couldn't leave it at that, trusting the audience to grasp the enormousness of the transformation and the vastness of Schindler's legacy. But that's Steven Spielberg for you. Subtlety was never his strong suit.

Oh, and by the way -- GATT sucks. Whatever it is.

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