Thursday, April 20, 2017
The Zookeeper's Wife Review
The story of the movie takes place in Poland during World War II and tells the true story of Jan and Antonina Żabiński and how they helped rescue around 300 Jews over the course of World War II. A more accurate title to me may have been "The Zookeeper and His Wife" because the story is about both of them. But I suppose they call it "The Zookeeper's Wife" because the book this is based off was taken from the diary of Antonina and gives it that title, so it makes sense. But anyways, the two of them are running and living at the Warsaw Zoo when, on September 1, 1939, we have the German invasion of Poland where sadly the zoo gets caught in the crossfire and mostly destroyed. The Żabińskis survive, though, and once we get into the thick of things and they see what is going on with the Jews, they come up with a plan to use the destroyed zoo that they still live at, and plan to rebuild once the war is over, as a secret refuge for Jews, some of whom stay for just a night or two while others stay for the entire war. Their cover-up plan to pull this off is to use the zoo as a pig farm to feed the German soldiers so that they can fly under the radar and hopefully not get caught. In the meantime, Antonina uses her piano playing as a warning for when there's potential danger.
Right off the bat I feel obligated to warn you that this is not a kid's film. If you know me well enough, you'll know that I'm not a big fan of the MPAA because there's a lot of ambiguity and gray area. I don't like it when people use the MPAA alone as a strict guideline for when to see and not see a movie rather than looking at the content in the film. PG-13 is an especially gray area since many PG-13 films, especially the superhero and recent Star Wars film, are mild enough that a 9 or 10 year old child would have no problem with while other PG-13 films probably shouldn't be seen until one is closer to being a legal adult. This movie belongs in the latter category. While I didn't notice much blood or language, the war scenes were rather brutal. I cringed in my seat quite a bit during the bombing sequences or when soldiers would shoot people and/or animals. Then we have a certain bedroom scene where the sheets don't quite cover Jessica Chastain well enough when she shifts in her bed. Thus I think they got away with a PG-13 when this arguably could've been R. I mainly say this because I know there are people who are understandably sensitive to war movies and I wanted to give you a fair warning in case you are one of these people. Proceed with caution.
With that in mind, in comes my second comparison. "The Book Thief." This is what I would classify as an very underrated film that also dealt with World War II in a more toned back, quiet sort of way, choosing to focus more on the story of a few people who had to go through war instead of giving a first-hand, brutal look into the horrific moments that happened. It was released at the end of 2013 and also holds a rotten score on Rotten Tomatoes of 46 percent, not too far below the 57 percent of "The Zookeeper's Wife." I would say both movies deserve to be at least in the 70's or 80's on Rotten Tomatoes, but it is what it is. The tone of "The Zookeeper's Wife" is very much like "The Book Thief." Yes, they could've done more to give the movie more emotional weight, but what they chose to do wasn't bad. We spend a lot of time with Jessica Chastain in the zoo with these people. We don't get a ton of background on where they've been or the specifics of what happened to them, but there's a lot of character building with these quiet moments that makes you really appreciate what this couple did for these people despite the high risk of what could've happened to everyone had their secret plan been found out. Because of this, I was nervous in the final act of this movie.
I suppose if people don't like the idea of spending a lot of time hidden down in the basement corridors with these people that were hiding from the Germans, then this may come off as too slow and boring. If you need a war thriller that is action packed and gruesome from beginning to end, perhaps you may want to look elsewhere. But in my experience, the story of this movie was told well enough for me to be continually interested in what happens next and the characters were good enough to help me be emotionally invested. Jessica Chastain especially pulls off a good enough performance to carry this film and Daniel Brühl was an intimidating enough presence as one of our German soldiers to make me nervous every time he was on scene, especially during the moments where he was in the house. Their was enough war scenes scattered throughout with the bombings and other actions of the Germans to make it so that you can't be comfortable. Thus even though much of the movie was fairly slow, I was still on the edge of my seat for most of the movie, especially because the war scenes were pretty brutal when they did happen. I don't know if I'll have a huge desire to watch this movie again, but I'm grateful I learned this story and thus I'll give "The Zookeeper's Wife" an 8/10.