The Pianist (****)

(2002) Roman Polanski – w/ Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Ed Stoppard, Julia Rayner, Jessica Kate Meyer, etc.

Synopsis: ‘The Pianist’ tells the (true) story of Wladyslaw Szpilman (the titular pianist), a Jewish pianist living in Warsaw through the outbreak of WWII. The movie begins with Szpilman in what’s a fairly comfortable position even in spite of the incipient anti-Jewish measures. As the movie progresses, however, this comfort vanishes and we follow Szpilman through his travails in struggling to survive.

Review: Curiously, Polanski chose a non-style style to film the story, opting to move away from camera flourishes and whatnot, believing that a story of such power should be allowed to tell itself. The result is a film that’s well-done all around, but that is not brilliant. The technical skill here is on par with Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby and Macbeth (and even Death and the Maiden), but there’s something missing. Bear in mind, it’s an excellent film. But…

Missing something, right; you catch on fast.

Part of the problem has to do with the fact that Polanski does almost nothing with suspense; early on the general sense of foreboding sets in—because of course we all have some idea about what’s going to happen, if not the specifics of the Szpilman’s own story—and terror throughout helps maintain that foreboding, but there’s never anything like a build-up of suspense. Quite possibly ‘The Pianist’ has no place for suspense. It’s a true story, after all, and in that sense it’s difficult to “add” suspense without belittling the story or making it too melodramatic. But because of this, Polanski is unable to craft as fine a movie as, e.g., ‘Chinatown’ or ‘Rosemary’s Baby’.

In any case, ‘The Pianist’ is mighty fine. But the best movie you’ve ever seen it is not.

Rating: [••••] out of [•••••]