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The Zookeeper’s Wife

There are many tales of World War 2 bravery which have provided much dramatic fuel for cinema since it ended in 1945. Many have been harrowing accounts of atrocities and evil done in the name of nationalism. There have been others which have been uplifting amongst the horror with the best of humanity seen through the worst. Derived from Diane Ackerman’s non-fiction book, ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ is a generally interesting story of defiance against the might of scurrilous oppression.

Dr Jan Zabinksi (Johan Heidenbergh) and his wife Antonina (Jessica Chastain) are the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo. When Poland is invaded by the Nazis in 1939, their world falls apart. Witnessing their Jewish friends in the Warsaw ghetto go through hell, they decide to act. Jan and Antonina strive to save as many as possible by using their zoo as a hiding place for the desperate and persecuted. With the German army ever present, the constant danger they face leaves their lives hanging in eternal peril.

Any film set during World War 2 has to overcome the obstacle of making it unique. Literally countless stories have been told about the conflict so that we feel we know it all. ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ feels very familiar with Jan and Antonina resisting against tyranny. Their determination to protect friends and strangers was admirable with the threat of death ever present. Niki Caro directs these scenes with the right balance of foreboding atmosphere and optimism.

Where the story falters slightly is not having the courage of its convictions. The script feels very ‘safe’, as if it’s scared to go too much into the realms of the darkness surrounding its characters. This lack of bravery dilutes the emotional intensity with some characters’ actions feeling unconvincing. You don’t feel as drawn into the movie as you should despite good performances. The notion of pure evil and how trust is abused is effectively conveyed as those involved cope with the horrors faced.

Not as memorable as it could have been, ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ is a rather routine affair. Little of the eternal darkness of the surrounds is truly felt with a screenplay pulling its punches. War is still hell no matter the script’s quality with the real-life bravery of those standing up to injustice one that should always be applauded.

Rating out of 10: 6

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