Reviews - The Pianist (2002)
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The Pianist (2002)

Genres: Biography, Drama, War

Taglines: Music was his passion. Survival was his masterpiece.

Director: Roman Polanski

Writers: Ronald Harwood, Wladyslaw Szpilman

Stars: Adrien Brody, Emilia Fox, Michal Zebrowski, Ed Stoppard, ...

In this adaptation of the autobiography "The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945," Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish Jewish radio station pianist, sees Warsaw change gradually as World War II begins. Szpilman is forced into the Warsaw Ghetto, but is later separated from his family during Operation Reinhard. From this time until the concentration camp prisoners are released, Szpilman hides in various locations among the ruins of Warsaw.

100 | Desson Thomson

Polanski, himself a survivor of Nazi-occupied Poland, has created a near-masterpiece.
Read More: Washington Post

100 | Ty Burr

There are three Poles in The Pianist -- Szpilman, Polanski, and Frederic Chopin. Of the three, fittingly, Chopin speaks the loudest.
Read More: Boston Globe

100 | Michael Sragow

Roman Polanski's new movie may be the greatest historical film centered on an enigmatic character since Lawrence of Arabia.
Read More: Baltimore Sun

100 | Charles Taylor

The director seems to be saying that, for survivors, art may be a way back to our finer selves -- extraordinary.
Read More:

100 | David Edelstein

The best film of 2002.
Read More: Slate

100 | Michael Wilmington

A great movie on a powerful, essential subject -- the Holocaust years in Poland -- directed with such artistry and skill that, as we watch, the barriers of the screen seem to melt away.
Read More: Chicago Tribune

100 | Mick LaSalle

One of the great Holocaust films.
Read More: San Francisco Chronicle

100 | Stephen Hunter

A beautiful story, told in measured cadences by a master of old-timey narrative compression and expression.
Read More: Washington Post

91 | Lisa Schwarzbaum

The result is a movie, and Cannes Palme d'Or winner, of riveting power and sadness, a great match of film and filmmaker -- and star, too.
Read More: Entertainment Weekly

91 | Shawn Levy

It's no wonder that Polanski, himself an artist who has survived a series of nightmares, should tell it so naturally and powerfully.
Read More: Portland Oregonian

90 | Jonathan Rosenbaum

The results are masterful, admirably unsentimental, and never boring, if also a little stodgy.
Read More: Chicago Reader

90 | David Ansen

This powerful, precision-made movie offers hope as well -- an act of kindness from a German officer that saves the pianist’s life, the music that sustains his soul.
Read More: Newsweek

90 | Manohla Dargis

Never before has a fiction film so clearly and to such devastating effect laid out the calculation of the Nazi machinery of death and its irrationality.
Read More: Los Angeles Times

90 | Andy Klein

There have been other films dealing with the Jewish ghettos during the Nazi occupation of Poland -- some very good -- but The Pianist, the latest feature from Roman Polanski, may be the best.
Read More: Dallas Observer

90 | Peter Rainer

Polanski’s strongest and most personally felt movie.
Read More: New York Magazine (Vulture)

90 | Dana Stevens

Polanski, who was a Jewish child in Krakow when the Germans arrived in September 1939, presents Szpilman's story with bleak, acid humor and with a ruthless objectivity that encompasses both cynicism and compassion.
Read More: The New York Times

89 | Marc Savlov

Szpilman takes to performing sonatas in thin air, eyes closed, those jittery fingers stroking nothing but air. It's a wonderful moment in a wonderful, ghastly film, and one of the most moving arguments for the redemptive powers of art ever made.
Read More: Austin Chronicle

88 | Lawrence Toppman

After an hour, The Pianist stops being the Holocaust movie and becomes a Holocaust movie.
Read More: Charlotte Observer

88 | Liam Lacey

Polanski's view of life is like that of Greek tragedy, with the same cold comfort that tragedy implies; from the larger perspective which art gives us, we know even horrors eventually pass.
Read More: The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

88 | Rene Rodriguez

If The Pianist isn't quite as devastating as "Schindler's List" -- the movie with which all other Holocaust movies must be compared -- it's because Polanski isn't interested in an expansive view of the war.
Read More: Miami Herald

88 | Mike Clark

With this 2002 Cannes Film Festival best-picture winner, Polanski skips the quirky flourishes and simply brings history to life.
Read More: USA Today

88 | Carrie Rickey

To the extent that movies bear the residue of their filmmakers' autobiographies, I found The Pianist particularly compelling.
Read More: Philadelphia Inquirer

88 | Jami Bernard

The power of the arts to transcend cultural differences is presumably what moves the German to spare Szpilman, and, perhaps, is the key to Polanski's salvation as well.
Read More: New York Daily News

88 | Roger Ebert

The closing scenes of the movie involve Szpilman's confrontation with a German captain named Wilm Hosenfeld -- Polanski's direction of this scene, his use of pause and nuance, is masterful.
Read More: Chicago Sun-Times

88 | James Berardinelli

Crafted without a whiff of melodrama, this motion picture takes a steady, unflinching look at the plight of Jews in Warsaw.
Read More: ReelViews

88 | Peter Travers

Nothing can detract from the film as a portrait of hell so shattering it's impossible to shake.
Read More: Rolling Stone

80 | Ken Fox

Polanski's film is an unqualified success both dramatically and artistically.
Read More: TV Guide Magazine

80 | Stanley Kauffmann

To name only one of its predecessors -- for me, the towering one -- doesn't "Schindler's List" do everything that Polanski achieves and more?
Read More: The New Republic

80 | Darrin Keene

Does the world need another Holocaust film? When the director is Roman Polanski, the answer is an unequivocal “yes."
Read More: Film Threat

80 | Richard Schickel

A raw, unblinking film. It teaches that in dire circumstances our only obligation is to our own survival; all else -- culture, ideology, even love -- is a dispensable luxury.
Read More: Time

80 | Ella Taylor

Polanski, wisely, doesn't interpret or explain. He seems to have decided that in the face of such meticulously planned horror, the best one can do is get the details right.
Read More: L.A. Weekly

75 | V.A. Musetto

The Pianist recalls "Schindler's List," even down to its weakness: Just as Spielberg's film turned sentimental in its final half hour, Polanski's work, too, has a schmaltz coda. But that doesn't make The Pianist any less effective.
Read More: New York Post

75 | David Sterritt

Has a sense of emotional urgency and deep-dwelling grief.
Read More: Christian Science Monitor

70 | Scott Tobias

Through Brody's remarkably controlled, self-effacing performance, Polanski succeeds in making his hero an invisible man, but the sights he conjures are surprisingly artless and ordinary, familiar from a dozen other Holocaust dramas. Among the casualties in The Pianist is a great director's imagination.
Read More: The A.V. Club

70 | J. Hoberman

Suffers from over-explanation. The movie maintains tremendous momentum through the Szpilman family's deportation. The second half is another story.
Read More: Village Voice


The movie is about preservation and restoration and the power of art. But with what gain in knowledge? It's as if Szpilman had no soul, and no will, apart from an endless desire to tickle the keys. [13 January 2003, p. 90]

67 | William Arnold

Offers nothing new. It's actually one of Polanski's more conventional films and, ultimately, it's hard to recommend it with a clear conscience.
Read More: Seattle Post-Intelligencer

50 | Phil Hall

At the risk of being called an anti-Semite, I would like to propose a moratorium on Holocaust movies -- While it would be crass to discount the importance of the subject, at the same time one has to admit there is some degree of excess going on here.
Read More: Film Threat

50 | Todd McCarthy

Surprisingly lacks a feeling of personal urgency and insight that would have made it a distinctive, even unique contribution to the considerable number of films that deal with the war in general and Holocaust in particular.
Read More: Variety