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THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Vera Farmiga, David Thewlis, Rupert Friend, Asa Butterfield, Jack Scanlon
Director: Mark Herman
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Miramax
Features: See Review
Length: 94 Minutes
Release Date: March 10, 2009

“We’re not supposed to be friends, you and me. We’re meant to be enemies.”

Film ***1/2

At first glance, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas looked like a genuinely uplifting tale about the bond between two young boys, a Jewish prisoner and the son of a Nazi officer. I saw the trailer for the film, as well as the poster art, and that’s the vibe I got from it. And to a degree, that friendship that develops is the heart of the film.

However, I wasn’t at all familiar with the novel written John Boyne, which this film has faithfully adapted. Though I knew the Holocaust was going to be used as a backdrop in the story, I wasn’t prepared for just how much of a big role it would play in the story. The very horror of it is illustrated in a devastating climax that left me absolutely shaken, emotionally. More on that later.

Set in Berlin during WWII, the story is seen through the eyes of 8-year-old Bruno (Asa Butterfield). He’s the son of a Nazi officer (David Thewlis), and the notion of his childlike innocence in the way he views life is all the more heartbreaking. He respects his father, but is obviously too young to understand the nature of his profession.

The father receives word that he has been assigned a new job, which will force the family to move to the German countryside. Their new house looks over what Bruno is told is simply a farm. But his curiosity rises even more when he goes out to the farm one day, only to discover a barbed wire fence and a boy dressed in striped clothing sitting behind it.

The boy introduces himself as Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), a name unlike any Bruno has ever heard. What draws the two together is pure childlike innocent qualities both of them possess. Before long, Bruno makes a daily effort to visit the boy who eventually becomes his one true best friend.

Several things strike Bruno in an odd way about Shmuel. The first of which is the fact that he is dressed in what appear to be striped pajamas. He is also confused by the numbers on his clothing, thinking it must mean something special.

Most of all, though, Bruno doesn’t quite understand why Shmuel and others like him have to work on the farm. By this point, it’s clear to the audience that the farm is really a concentration camp. And from the moment Bruno has all these questions, the viewer’s heart can’t help but start to break very slowly.

But no matter how much your heart begins to break, nothing can prepare you for the devastating conclusion to the film. Without giving away what happens, the final sequence was is totally on par with any of the shattering moments in Schindler’s List. It has been quite a while since I was left so incredibly shaken by a film to the point that I sat in shock during the entire end credits. Nothing I say can possibly prepare you for what will unfold before your eyes in the final fifteen minutes.

The only thing that viewers may have to grow accustomed to is the fact that most of the cast speak with British accents, despite playing German characters. The same technique was used in Valkyrie, another WWII based film released this past year, and one I liked even more. However, it has no effect on the quality of the performances, especially that of American actress Vera Farmiga, who has countless powerful moments as Bruno’s mother whose tolerance of her husband’s job is eventually challenged upon a horrific discovery.

If anything, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a most important film for parents to watch with their children as a form of education, as long as they are prepped for the final moments. The film earns its PG-13 rating, but I can’t think of a better film for families to watch together, especially when kids start to learn about WWII in school. It’s a story that will stick with you for life, guaranteed.

Video ****

This Miramax release boasts one gloriously detailed anamorphic presentation, which enhances the authenticity of the World War II backdrop. The German countryside setting looks nothing short of breathtaking, which is important to point out since the setting is captured frequently throughout the film. The image is a hundred percent flawless in all aspects, delivering nothing but a crisp and pristine picture from beginning to end.

Audio ***

Although the film itself is mainly dialogue driven, the 5.1 mix is most serviceable. Spoken words are delivered in a most terrific form, making all of the foreign dialect very easy to understand. As a bonus, the beautiful and subtle music score by veteran James Horner plays tremendously through the channels. A sound presentation that’s not bombastic, yet still quite effective.

Features ***

Included on this disc is a commentary track with director/screenwriter Mark Herman and novelist John Boyne, as well as five Deleted Scenes with optional commentary from Herman and Boyne. Also featured is a well-informative behind the scenes featurette titled “Friendship Beyond the Fence”, which runs about twenty minutes long.

Summary:

Any film dealing with history that can manage to leave me ultimately moved at the end is one worth recommending to anyone. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a beautifully made period film about a friendship you will never forget.

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