It’s September 1, 1939 and the Nazis have just invaded Poland, bombing Warsaw and nearly destroying its zoo. Jan Żabiński and his wife Antonina manage to save some of their animals by sending them to Berlin in the care of Hitler’s zoologist, Lutz Heck. After witnessing the horrible conditions in the Ghetto, they decide to use the zoo’s basements and tunnels to smuggle Jews to safe houses. By war’s end, they manage to rescue over 300 people while aiding the resistance and keeping their family together under terrifying conditions.
2017, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hrs 6 mins
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 2.40:1 Aspect Ratio
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Daniel Brühl
Directed by Niki Caro
The Zookeeper’s Wife is based on a true story. The Żabińskis, facing the Nazi threat every day, manage to smuggle over 300 people out of the Ghetto before it’s evacuated. It’s quite an intense tale and danger lurks at every turn when our heroes never know who they can trust. The principal actors tell the story without calling attention to themselves. There are many moments that will have the viewer in suspense, even if you’ve read the history beforehand. Daniel Brühl plays a character well-within his skill set; irritating and dislikeable without resorting to over-the-top brutality. Jessica Chastain is a wonderful actor but in this instance, I found her portrayal a bit strange. She seemed far too demure and weak to be in the position of hiding Jews and defying Nazi soldiers. Her bond with the animals was far more believable.
My only criticism is the film’s PG-13 rating. There are several scenes of rather brutal violence; brutal enough that I wouldn’t recommend this movie for family viewing. The Nazis did some truly horrible things to Polish civilians, both Jew and Gentile, and that aspect of the period is shown several times in gory detail. That being said, The Zookeeper’s Wife is an extremely well-made piece and will certainly appeal to history buffs and fans of wartime drama.
The image is without flaw and presented in warm tones that portray the period perfectly. Detail is sharp without looking overly-scrubbed as many modern films do. Film grain is used to great effect when appropriate while wide outdoor shots retain clarity down to the smallest objects. Contrast is broad and deep with nice inky blacks and solid highlights. Thankfully, the film-makers lit their interior scenes well and nothing is lost to the murk.
Audio is rich and detailed with excellent use of the sub and surround channels. There is plenty of information to create a convincing envelope of sound thanks to ambient details that take place across a broad front stage. Distant explosions come off with a satisfying thump but never become the stuff of popcorn action films. Also portrayed with realism is gunfire. Many movies make every shot sound like a cannon but in this case, sharp pops are far more believable.
Bonus features total around 15 minutes and include a making-of featurette, interviews with the Żabiński children, and deleted scenes.