The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (Blu-ray)
How do you tell a story about the Holocaust that can deliver a powerful message but still be okay for both children and adults? THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS is an attempt to do just that, and it is striking. Set in the middle of World War II, this is the story of an eight-year-old boy, Bruno, whose father becomes the commandant of a concentration camp and his whole world turns upside down. The film opens with a shot of Bruno running with friends through the streets of Berlin, oblivious to what is happening all around them.
Soon after arriving home, Bruno (played with subtle authority by ten-year-old Asa Butterfield) is notified by his father that he has been promoted and they will be moving. Bruno, like all of us when we are young, has unquestioned pride in his father and the work that he does. Once the family arrives at their new home, however, things begin to change. There are soldiers in their home regularly. No children or families nearby with whom to play. No school – Bruno and his sister have a Nazi-assigned tutor who teaches them in their home.
The close proximity to the concentration camp takes its toll on this little family. Gretel (well-played with little screen time by Amber Beattie) becomes enamored with one of the soldiers which gives way to her loss of innocence. Bruno, an explorer at heart, sneaks out of the home/compound and befriends a child at “the farm” (what his parents have called the camp). Bruno’s friend is a Jewish boy named Shmuel, played by eight-year-old Jack Scanlon, and Bruno quickly figures out ways to go and see his new friend as often as possible. Once these two meet the story quickly evolves. Bruno is conflicted because he is learning what the Nazi’s taught about the Jews. He knows that he isn’t supposed to like this child, but he needs a friend. Bruno also learns that sometimes there are things kept from children, things which alter his perception of his father and soldiering.
It would be easy for this movie to be a cliché; it is certainly filled with moments that could cross that line. But it does not happen, mostly due to some great performances by an outstanding central cast. As I already discussed the child actors are great, but the adults provide the backbone on which the film is built. David Thewlis, known for his recurring role as Lupin in the HARRY POTTER films, here gives a nuanced performance that quickly becomes terrifying. He believes that he is doing what is necessary, and at the start of the film you feel like he is a strong family man who is also a soldier. This quickly dissolves once the family moves, and he becomes less and less relatable as his character develops. The cast is rounded out by Vera Farmiga (UP IN THE AIR) who shines as Bruno’s mother; David Hayman (VERTICAL LIMIT) and Rupert Friend (THE YOUNG VICTORIA).
This was a movie that I hesitated to see when it was in the theater. Now that I have watched, I am not sure why. It is well done, intimate, and poignant, and you should definitely check it out.
Video: (1080p/AVC 1.85:1 Widescreen) This transfer is great, from the warm colors in Berlin to the slow removal of color as we grow closer to the camp with Bruno. The movie looks great.
Audio: (English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio) The sound is great though there are a few quiet moments that actually require turning up the volume and immediately turning it back down. The score by James Horner is powerful and could tell its own story.
Commentary with Writer/Director Mark Herman and Author John Boyne: A very interesting commentary, but a little bit on the technical side. Some great notes on the development of a script, some notes on the development of the book, but just a bit too inside for the casual fan. There are quite a few quiet moments, but they are generally to emphasize something that is happening on the screen.
Friendship Beyond The Fence (20:31) A great little feature on the creation of the film, the evolution of the story from the novel that started it, and how the cast and crew came together.
Deleted Scenes (06:20) 5 deletes scenes available with or without commentary by the Mr. Herman and Mr. Boyne. The scenes are decent but the film works better without them. They are more interesting with the commentary, but not at all necessary.