The Zookeeper’s Wife is based on a true story that takes us back to late 1930s and to Warsaw, Poland. It opens just before Adolph Hitler and the Nazis invade and begin the extermination of the Jewish people who live there and concludes at the war’s end.
Antonina Zabinski is done by Jessica Chastain (The Martian) and she’s the zookeeper’s wife. Zabinski and her husband Jan own the local zoo. It’s filled — as all zoos are — with exotic animals. They catch the eye of German zoologist Lutz Heck, who is more than a little impressed with Antonina. When war breaks out, Heck, is the Nazi officer in charge of an aspect of Hitler’s desire to create a master race.
Heck takes their best animals to Germany for “safekeeping.” He also has a crush on Zabinski and decides to use the zoo to try to resurrect an extinct buffalo.
It’s an excuse to spend time with her and a decision that complicates their efforts to save the Polish ghetto’s Jews. She ends up using Heck’s lust to distract him. That leads to complications with her husband.
The Zookeeper’s Wife is written by newcomer Angela Workman and directed by Whale Rider’s Niki Caro. This — like all holocaust stories — deserves to be better told. Caro’s characters and Workman’s story are done in by cookie-cutter sets, cliche heroes and villains, and worn out sequences of people in danger.
The plot is also done in by the chemistry of the actors. It’s obvious that Chastain and Daniel Bruel — who plays Heck — connect but no one else does.
The film reminds us that we must be ever vigilant against tyranny wherever we find it. It also says people of courage will often — at great peril to themselves and their loved ones — do just that. The Zookeeper’s Wife just doesn’t send the message very well.
Movie name: The Zookeeper’s Wife
Director: Director: Niki Caro
Stars: Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Daniel Bruhl
Mr. Movie rating: 2 1/2 stars
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, violence, brief nudity. It’s playing at Regal’s Columbia Center 8 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen.
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it’s your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 stars to 1 star: Don’t bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.