Dramatization of the efforts by real-life Warsaw zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski to smuggle and shelter Jews during the Nazi occupation of Poland. It’s easy to see the story’s appeal: a loving couple (Johan Heldenbergh and a radiantly glamorous Jessica Chastain), struggling to preserve their life’s work but still risking everything to do what’s right, comforting the oppressed even as they have to make nice to the oppressors. (After their zoo is shut down, they turn the grounds into a pig farm to feed German soldiers.) Chief among those oppressors is Daniel Brühl as a Berlin zookeeper turned Nazi officer, a former colleague who enlists Chastain to aid him in his project of beastly eugenics, and maybe some other stuff, too. Brühl is the right man for what could have been a great job, easily conveying the character’s vacillations between professional esteem and growing personal desire, between courtly seduction and the naked assertion of will, between basic decency and the gradual corruption of same. But the film fails him, spending too much time documenting the degradation of the Warsaw ghetto and the goodness of the Zabinskis and their refuge, and not enough on the clash of ideologies and personalities that could have made the story hum. Again and again, the fuse is lit and then fizzles. Eventually, bewildered disinterest sets in. Directed by Niki Caro.
Length: 2 hours, 4 minutes