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The Pianist (2002)

The last musician to play live on Polish radio before the Nazis arrived.

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 149 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

Wladyslaw Szpilman was the last musician to play live on Polish radio before the Nazis arrived. Much more significantly, he was also an ordinary Jewish man whose life, like so many millions of others, was turned upside down by the Holocaust. In The Pianist, director Roman Polanski – himself a survivor of the Krakow ghettos in which Jews were sealed following the outbreak of war – brings us Szpilman's story.

The film chronicles Szpilman's struggle to stay alive from 1939, when the Nazis first arrived and gradually began to introduce anti-Semitic law, to the final days of German occupation in 1944. After a slow though undeniably hard-hitting opening period, The Pianist only begins to take off when Szpilman is saved from a labour camp and embarks upon years of hiding, battling illness and scavenging for food.

Adrien Brody excels in the lead role, as a man whose tale is set apart from so many others adapted for the big screen – he is not a hero, just a survivor. Indeed, perhaps that's why Polanski felt he had to take up this challenge.

But, while the quality of acting never ceases to amaze and there are moments to pull on even the tightest of heartstrings, the film often veers dangerously close to tedium and has an unexpected feeling of overkill. Some parts of Szpilman's story appear rushed, while the piano-playing scene towards the end of the picture drags on a little too long for this reviewer's admittedly short attention span. What's more, we've already seen much of this before in Schindler's List, and it's difficult to see what this film is adding that's new.

While it's important that we should never forget the Holocaust, we shouldn't mistake that with placing false kudos on every film ever made about it. The Pianist is in many ways an excellent production but, essentially, it's also one that I won't be watching again in a hurry.

It's Got: Shockingly graphic portrayals of Nazi atrocities.

It Needs: To differ more from what’s already been done better by Spielberg.


Superbly produced and performed, but also extremely tough-going, with little reward at the end.