It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
The title is an understatement, and so is the film. Roman Polanski's "The Pianist" tells the story of a Polish Jew, a classical musician, who survived the Holocaust through stoicism and good luck. This is not a thriller, and avoids any temptation to crank up suspense or sentiment; it is the pianist's witness to what he saw and what happened to him. That he survived was not a victory when all whom he loved died; Polanski, in talking about his own experiences, has said that the death of his mother in the gas chambers remains so hurtful that only his own death will bring closure.
The film is based on the autobiography of Wladyslaw Szpilman, who was playing Chopin on a Warsaw radio station when the first German bombs fell. Szpilman's family was prosperous and seemingly secure, and his immediate reaction was, "I'm not going anywhere." We watch as the Nazi noose tightens. His family takes heart from reports that England and France have declared war; surely the Nazis will soon be defeated and life will return to normal.
It does not. The city's Jews are forced to give up their possessions and move to the Warsaw ghetto, and there is a somber shot of a brick wall being built to enclose it. A Jewish police force is formed to enforce Nazi regulations, and Szpilman is offered a place on it; he refuses, but a good friend, who joins, later saves his life by taking him off a train bound for the death camps. Then the movie tells the long and incredible story of how Szpilman survived the war by hiding in Warsaw, with help from the Polish resistance.
Szpilman is played in the film by Adrien Brody, who is more gaunt and resourceless than in Ken Loach's "Bread And Roses" (2000), where he played a cocky Los Angeles union organizer. We sense that his Szpilman is a man who came early and seriously to music, knows he is good, and has a certain aloofness to life around him. More than once we hear him reassuring others that everything will turn out all right; this faith is based not on information or even optimism, but essentially on his belief that, for anyone who plays the piano as well as he does, it must.