Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Zookeeper’s Wife - Review

The Zookeeper’s Wife

Jessica Chastain (smitten) portrays the leading character in the real-life story of one working wife and mother who became a hero to hundreds during World War II as Antonina Żabińska and her husband, Dr. Jan Żabińsk.

Its 1939 and we find the happy couple living in Warsaw Poland flourishing. They are the stewards and care takers of the Warsaw Zoo that has an array of animals ranging from Elephants to Tigers and Lions. But when their country is invaded and most of the animals transported to Berlin or shot on the spot by the German Army, Jan and Antonina are stunned by the events and are forced to report to the Reich's newly appointed chief zoologist, Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl of "Captain America: Civil War"). When they see their community of Jewish friends and neighbors being brutalized, rape and rounded up, the couple strategize a way to fight back on their own terms with them covertly working with the underground Resistance. Their idea was to use their zoo as a hiding place for saving as many lives out of what has become the Jewish Warsaw Ghetto. By doing so in “plain sight” they were putting their lives and the lives of their children at great risk for possible immediate execution if they are discovered.

REVIEW: Jessica Chastain is always the glue to any film she is in. Why? Because she is just always great at everything she does, even when the written material is slightly below her. You can almost be 100% certain she will have moments where she lifts up dialogue in spite of the predictability of its development which happens in “TZW” as well.  

Chastain is nothing short of glowing and deeply honest in her portrayal of this virtually unknown heroin of World War 2. And while the film seems to soft pedal what I could only imagine were the day to day real life and death messy struggles to hiding people in their home and zoo for 4 years of the war, the film does get one irrefutable fact across very well. She and her husband were extraordinary heroes.

Daniel Bruhl, who you remember from “Inglorious Basterds” as the heroic idolized German Officer “Fredrick Zoller”, gives a solid performance as the lightly conflicted German Chief Zoologist Officer, Lutz Heck, who struggles with his passion for the cause of the Third Reich and his passionate affections for Antonina. His villainy here while muted at times is still compelling just enough to give the film its much needed sinister threat.

Ultimately the sweeping historical arc of this story is far more interesting than the film’s flawed execution on the big screen itself, as the screenplays seems to lack the much needed consistent spark to make this profound true drama rise to the occasion it richly deserves.  

The story, the actors and Director are all well intentioned here into making a serious movie drama with real consequences, as it does have some real spine tingling moments here and there. But in the end this story could have been much, much more if someone were only willing to be much harsher in telling this deeply moving story with ugly warts and all, rather than relying on the more safe gravitational visceral pull to always keep things somewhat sweet, antiseptic and theatrically polite.  Still even with these issues aside I genuinely recommend “TZW” as something you definitely should see.  

Edmund Burke famously stated, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. “TZW” clearly makes the case now for the inclusion of “women” to that line, with much gratitude and applause for the performance by Jessica Chastain here.

3.25 Stars

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