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Jessica Chastain in "The Zookeeper's Wife"; photo courtesy of Focus Features

Review overview

Review 8

Summary

8 tech score

“The Zookeeper’s Wife” (Focus Features)

Some movies educate you; some movies raise your spirits; some movies entertain you, and very rarely some do all three. “The Zookeeper’s Wife” does all this and more. It is based on a true story that happened during the 1940’s in Warsaw, Poland and is a tale of intense evil and unfailing honor. At its core it is a story of people placing their lives in extreme jeopardy in order that others might live. If the story wasn’t true you wouldn’t believe it; if it wasn’t true it wouldn’t have the impact it does.

The film starts with an idyllic sequence in which the audience meets the zookeeper Jan Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh) and his wife Antonina (Jessica Chastain). They own and operate the Warsaw Zoo and live at the zoo with their son Ryszard (Timothy Radford). They are wealthy and influential members of Polish society. One of their acquaintances is Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl), a man who is soon to become part of the German Army.

In short order Germany invades Poland and the Jewish population is rounded up and placed in a ghetto. The zoo is closed but Jan and Antonina come up with a plan to save their property, and some lives. They will turn the zoo into a pig farm and use their home and the zoo property as a way station for escaping Jews. All of this leads to a ticking time bomb of a situation and puts audiences on the edge of their seats. The fact it is based on a true story means that any horrific act could happen at any time.

Because of the high drama present in this story the actors must be able to convey a variety of emotions – fear, love, horror, evil, faith, etc. This cast meets that challenge and more. Bruhl has the most complex part in the story and he manages to convey all of the shades of his character. Heldenbergh is a relatively unknown actor in the States but he shouldn’t be for long. He brings depth and emotion to Jan while making him utterly human. Jan does not always do and say the right things but Heldenbergh helps you understand why.

Then there is Jessica Chastain. She is the face of this film and also its heart. Antonina is a wife, mother and patriot all at the same time. Sometimes one aspect interferes with the other and Chastain allows these differences and contrasts to appear on her face for all to see. This is an Award worthy performance which hopefully will be remembered when the year has ended.

The film is rated PG-13 for violence and adult situations.

“The Zookeeper’s Wife” tells an impressive historical tale and this is important. But it also holds up a mirror to the world of today and asks what will we do to emulate the strength of these characters. There is violence and oppression around the world that is shared with us daily from our news sources. Hopefully there are “Zookeeper’s Wife” type individuals who will help ease that pain.

I scored “The Zookeeper’s Wife” a beastly 8 out of 10.

Jackie K Cooper
www.jackiekcooper.com

Jackie Cooper

The author Jackie Cooper

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