The Zookeeper’s Wife is an excellent story of the husband and wife who ran the Warsaw Zoo before the Nazi invasion in Poland and who turned their zoo into part of an underground railroad to get Jews out of the ghettos.
Just from that description alone you know it is nearly impossible ruin such a story of unquestionable heroism and virtue. And the movie doesn’t fail to do ruin to this, but it also fails to bring it fully to life.
The story covers many relationships that the central character of Antonina Zabinski (Jessica Chastain) has with those around her. Her husband, her children, her employees, friends, numerous Jews that they were able to save and of course possibly the most fully developed in the story a Nazi official whom she works to distract throughout the film to ensure that her and her husband’s work to save as many Jews as they can is not discovered. The problem is that while this film runs for a full two hours, it is simply too full of relationships to the main character, leaving all of them feeling inadequate. I’m sure the book this is based on deals with all these relationships in a much more detailed way, but on film this just feels hollow.
The acting centering around Jessica Chastain is all very good, but like so many of Chastain’s choices for films good acting is not enough to make a film great. The pacing is wildly all over the place, and I fear someone who is not familiar with the events of Poland in WWII would be rather lost during the frequent jumps in time and events over the course of this movie which starts before the invasion of the Nazis and ends almost a year after the arrival of the Soviets.
Strangest of all, while this movie appears to be well researched and grounded well in fact, the part of the film where the most liberties are taken in relationship between Antonina and Nazi Lutz Heck. It’s the part of the movie that seems to get the most attention of the director and from what I’ve read it’s the part that deviates the most from the actual events. I would have preferred more about the actual saving of the victims of the Ghetto.
In the end it’s a good film, and I was moved by it, but if you spend any time thinking about it, there is so much left out that it leaves you wishing there was more to this film than what they showed you.
It gets a B-. It could have been better if they spent more time on the real history.