I thought about "Schindler's List" when I was viewing this 2002 film yesterday. I know it's not fair, but the comparison is inevitable. Both movies deal with the same subject -- the brutality of Nazism and the bone-chilling tragedy of anti-Semitism, but "Schindler's List" has set a very high standard for any filmmaker attempting to tackle this difficult subject, so perhaps Polanski is smart to have chosen his protagonist in a Jewish pianist who is simply trying to survive as a human being in the most hellish circumstances.
Whereas every scene in "Schindler's List" packs a heavyweight dramatic punch, "The Pianist" meanders once in a while, but that is the only criticism this extraordinary movie will get from me. Polanski presents the suffering of Jewish people in technicolor realism, and some of the details of atrocity are hard to watch; comparatively, the blood in the black-and-white photography of "Schindler's List" looks less gruesome, but that's Spielberg's brilliant design, as we, the audience, are able to concentrate on the drama.
Being the son of two pianists, I was hoping to see more musical side of the protagonist (excellently portrayed by Adrien Brody), however, that is not what Polanski is willing to provide. His strategy of not showing the merry aspect of a musician's life is finally made clear toward the end of the film in a moving scene between the pianist and a German officer, the details of which I shall not divulge here. I will say this: the extremely well-directed scene is a test of my tear glands -- for someone who rarely cries while watching movies, I was surprised I had so much "supply" of that strange fluid which kept gushing out of my eyes.