The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
dir-scr Mark Herman
with Asa Butterfield, David Thewlis, Vera Farmiga, Jack Scanlon, Rupert Friend, David Heyman, Amber Beattie, Cara Horgan, Richard Johnson, Sheila Hancock, Jim Norton, Ivan Verebely
release UK 12.Sep.08, US 7.Nov.08
08/UK Miramax 1h34
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
Brothers in arms: Scanlon and Butterfield

thewlis farmiga friend
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas This intriguing wartime tale has an otherworldly quality that draws us into a gentle and increasingly haunting story. Solid production values and superb performances make it into something truly memorable.

Eight-year-old Bruno (Butterfield) doesn't want to move to the countryside with his 12-year-old sister Gretel (Beattie), their mother (Farmiga) and SS commandant father (Thewlis). Bored to tears, Bruno sneaks out to visit the strange farm nearby where everyone wears striped pyjamas, befriending a boy his age (Scanlon) through the barbed wire. Bruno feels like the one trapped; he just wants to play. But he's slowly realising that his dad might not be the hero he thought he was.

Shot in English, the film can almost be read as a fable set in an alternate reality. This tone, combined with a sharp child's-eye perspective, makes the story far more personal than most Nazi dramas. It certainly isn't that the raw horror of the situation is being underplayed; it's all right there, but in his youthful naiveté, Bruno has yet to discover what it means. For him, playing grisly war games with his city pals is still hilariously good fun.

Filmmaker Herman also uses ingenious production design, contrasting the family's cosy city manse against the sleek lines of their art-deco country house, with blocks of white, black and red that echo in a certain flag. And the characters are also intriguingly shaded, all observed through Butterfield's curious, thoughtful eyes. This allows the rest of the cast to deliver subtle performances that hint at the grim reality.

From Bruno's point of view, we see the cracks in his father's kind façade and his mother's struggle against the dawning truth. We explore the steely resolve of his father's young assistant (Friend) and how Gretel instantly attaches herself to him. And the prisoners (both Scanlon and Heyman's handyman) are likeable, interesting people, rather than the "evil, dangerous vermin" the Nazis see.

That said, the film sometimes abandons Bruno's perspective to give us more traditional movie moments, especially in the heart-stopping final act. And there are a couple of obvious shock-tactics, such as the clouds of black smoke above the trees or a gruesome discovery in the basement. But when Bruno's father says, "We're in a war, we have to do this," the film suddenly sets itself in a much more resonant present that simply shouldn't be ignored.

cert 12 very strong themes 30.Jul.08

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas Colin Smart, South Shields: 5/5 "I believe this is the most important film ever made. Its importance is that it draws the audience into the situation from the perspectove of a tyrant enemy's family and friends into understanding too late the horror and significance of what they are doing. Although set in Nazi Germany it could have be set at different times throughout history up to the present time. I attend the cinema in early afternoon and was pleased to see one couple of teenagers present who were shattered and very emotional at the end of the film. I believe it should be seen by everyone although some will need counselling afterwards such is its power." (18.Sep.08)
© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall