Review: The Zookeeper's Wife
Directed by Niki Caro
By Christopher Spencer
Directed by Niki Caro (Whale Rider, North Country), The Zookeeper’s Wife stars Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, and Daniel Brühl, and tells the story of Antonina Żabińska, who owned a zoo in Warsaw with her husband, and who continues to run the zoo as an underground Jewish salvation after the Nazis invade in 1944.
I’ll make this short and simple: this movie bored me so much, I and the person I went with spent a majority of the runtime just talking quietly. All we wanted to do was drown out the dullness and the predictability and the fact that almost nothing happens in the entire plot of The Zookeeper’s Wife.
Of director Niki Caro’s work, I have only seen North Country and that was powerfully made to make me deeply interested in anything she does in the future. And to this movie’s credit, she knows how to capture a sense of beauty and awe in this old zoo that has lion cubs in house beds, camels running free, and elephants only guarded by a small chain gate. The first 15 minutes show us how incredible such a place is, and why it is worth protecting once the Nazi Regime comes knocking.
But this is not Schindler’s List, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas or more fittingly Hotel Rwanda, because while the story sounds investing, the actual movie beyond the opening act is nothing. The evil comes, we get short, meaningless scenes of Jews being rounded and put in ghettos, then Antonina and her husband just randomly start hiding a few, 2 fake-out deaths happen in a row, then the war is over and suddenly the movie is too.
I don’t know how else The Zookeeper’s Wife could have been anymore interesting than what the story really is, but I do know that this product is a dull, flat movie not worth watching, even if you’re bored on a rainy Sunday inside. I like both Chastain and Brühl as actors, but Chastain’s Polish accent is amateur at best, and Brühl is just awful for 126 minutes straight.
I do hope that Caro can bring that early feeling of wonder from this movie for the whole time with her upcoming live-action remake of Disney’s Mulan, because that worked. Let’s hope she forgets the plodding drama we’ve seen a hundred times before, and can pick a story that actually has cinematic potential beyond just a nice true story. Basically, you don’t need to see The Zookeeper’s Wife. Not unless you really want to sleep. Because I did.