A Polish Jewish musician struggles to survive the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto of World War II.
Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody), was 29 years old but already a well known musician broadcasting on Polish radio when war broke out in 1939. At the time, he was living with his family in a comfortable apartment, but with the German occupation of Poland life for Szpilman and his family gradually becomes more circumscribed, they're forced to wear armbands and, eventually, to leave their apartment and move into the ghetto, then the killings and the transportations begin.
Roman Polanski, who was born in 1933, was a child of the Holocaust; somehow, he managed to escape the Nazis during the terrible war years. A sense of brooding horror and menace has suffused all his best films - Knife In The Water, Repulsion, Rodemary's Baby, Chinatown, and so it's a bit disappointing that, now that he's finally tackled a story close to his own heart, the results are so old- fashioned and academic.
I suspect that the awards that the film has been winning are more to do with the subject matter than the film itself; it's an inspiring story of horror and survival, but the film could have been made by almost anyone.
Much care has been taken with the sets and overall design of the film, and, in a way, it's a pity that the characters have to speak English, because that reduces the realism. Adrien Brody is excellent as Szpilman, on whose autobiographical book the film is based, but opportunities to explore some interesting aspects of the story - the role played by the Jewish police, for instance - are largely avoided. It's a decent film, but from Polanski, and especially given the subject matter, it should have been a masterpiece, and it isn't.