The Zookeeper's Wife
World War II is probably one of the most ubiquitous settings in cinema history. There is a seemingly endless stream of stories coming out every year about this time period. The most recent is The Zookeeper’s Wife, a more unique story than most, but unfortunately this film is bogged down by its genre tropes.
The Zookeeper’s Wife is the true story of a family who owns a zoo in Warsaw (played by Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, and Timothy Radford) and how they used it during the Nazi occupation of Poland to hide and smuggle Jews.
The main problem with this story was that it tried to cover so many years in its meager runtime. Most of the scenes seem too rushed and blunt as the writers try to quickly get a point across. The characters are left as mere names in a history book, and never fully come to life for the audience. The story should move you with emotion and awe, at the incredibly brave acts portrayed, and yet the actual film is toned down in such a way that it all seems anecdotal.
Director Niki Caro, managed to wrangle two great Hollywood stars: Jessica Chastain and Daniel Bruhl, and you would think this would up the quality of this period piece, but you’d be wrong. Unfortunately, the great Chastain is relegated to nailing her eastern European accent and mulling through her insipid lines, whilst Bruhl is delegated to such a small supporting role (playing a Nazi, again) that he is never given enough time to make an impact or give his villain any color.
Not all is bad however, the film does have the “true story” wow factor on its side, and since Caro plays it safe you are saved from any unsettling cinematic surprises. The animal cubs are adorable as always (that baby lion…), and steal the show in the first couple of scenes. However, you feel that with the bizarre setting and incredible true story, something better and more philosophical would have come out.