The Zookeeper's Wife (2017)

The Zookeeper's Wife (2017) Cover

Based on a true story, The Zookeeper’s Wife is not entirely without subtlety despite being a direct and straightforward story. There is merit in telling a touching story about real life perseverance in hardship. Unfortunately, this isn’t enough to carry an entire film. The Zookeeper’s Wife is visually compelling, but fumbles at building suspense and lacks a unique voice.

Almost every shot of this film is well composed, and the colors are clean and beautiful. The animals fill the length of the film with life and most of its beauty. Johan Heldenbergh delivers the most compelling performance in the film as the zookeeper. Jessica Chastain is solid, but lacks nuance as the lead in the film. She is good enough to hold the film together, but is a little flat when she needs to excel. Val Maloku plays their son, and is easily the weakest link in the film. More than one scene falls apart with him at the center.

My favorite parts of the film were the times when it said a lot with a little. Once or twice the film permits the audience to imagine what is happening, or asks of them to know what will happen. These scenes fill find a great deal of power in what they don’t show, or don’t say, and they are the strongest parts. They feel a little out of place, though, in a film that is otherwise very direct and straightforward. The main characters are never morally challenged. More importantly, the danger they’re in never feels more than perfunctory. Rarely did I ever feel worried for the fate of the characters.

More importantly, though, I don’t think The Zookeeper’s Wife has anything to add to the conversation. It’s content to be just a good story. And it is, that. This is a true story, an incredible one, and that’s the best part. I don’t think that’s enough, though. We have tons of great and incredible stories of heroism, loss, and tragedy from the holocaust. The very best of these stories have more to say, something deeper to look at. I didn’t get that here, and given the other weaknesses, I think it needed it.

Overall, The Zookeeper’s Wife is a good movie that is worth watching despite its flaws. It will have little lasting impact or be worth multiple viewings, though it has its moments. If you enjoy drama and want a good story, it will scratch that itch.

Final Verdict:An entertaining if predictable drama that occassionally excels.