It is very rare these days that a film comes along that is so emotionally powerful and historically significant. Movies today just don’t seem to tackle important human issues and that is truly quite a shame. Released in theaters in 2008 and based on John Boyne’s 2006 novel, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is an extraordinary film that takes place during a very troubling time: the Holocaust. The story focuses on the relationship between two young boys; one the son of a Nazi commandant and the other an imprisoned Jew. Both boys befriend one another even though they are meant to be enemies.
Upon getting a promotion, SS officer Ralf (David Thewlis) and his family move from Berlin to a countryside area so that Ralf can be close to and oversee the operations of a Nazi concentration camp. The family consists of wife Elsa (Vera Farmiga), 12-year-old daughter Gretel (Amber Beattie) and 8-year-old son Bruno (Asa Butterfield). Bruno being young and full of energy finds himself bored and lonely in the secluded location of his new home. One day, he ventures out into the woods in search of adventure and excitement. He eventually finds an area that is fenced off. Bruno believes it to be a farm and meets a boy his age within the “farm”. The boy, Shmuel (Jack Scanlon) is also starved of fun and companionship and thus, their friendship begins.
Shmuel is a Jewish prisoner awaiting execution and Bruno is unaware of this horrible fact. He then starts visiting Shmuel, brings him food and plays games with him all the while being separated by a fence. They form a special bond despite the rather unfortunate state their world is in and their friendship blossoms while anti-Semitism and hatred plague their surroundings.
Young actors Asa Butterfield (Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang) and Jack Scanlon (Married Single Other) carry this movie very well. They are both filled with such innocence and curiosity that it is pretty heartbreaking that their characters live in Nazi-occupied Europe. This devastatingly tense environment serves as a rather unique setting for Bruno and Shmuel to cultivate their friendship. The rest of the cast is also pretty sensational. David Thewlis (theHarry Potter films) plays the Nazi father of Bruno. While his job may be in the business of evil, he is actually a very caring father, a complete walking oxymoron. The beautiful Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air) plays the mother Elsa with warmth and compassion and Amber Beattie (The Sarah Jane Adventures) gives a cheerful performance as sister Gretel.
Aside from Butterfield and Scanlon’s stellar performances, another cast member tends to steal the show. That cast member is Rupert Friend (Pride & Prejudice) and he plays a sinister young Nazi named Lieutenant Kotler. Friend’s portrayal of this anti-Semitic soldier is so realistic and genuine that he is actually pretty scary to watch. He instills fear and spreads hatred towards the Jewish people in the camp. He is almost the very essence of evil and his performance is nothing short of excellent.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a pretty incredible picture. The story is so endearing and the performances are very strong. Mark Herman’s (Brassed Off) direction is top notch and so is the writing. There really isn’t anything wrong with the movie. I was actually stunned not to find any flaws. If you want to see a film that deals with a very sensitive topic while at the same time shedding light on the positive aspects of humanity then I suggest you give this film a try. Now out on Blu-ray, this extremely moving story is as rich as the disc’s picture and sound.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
The bonus features for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas are relatively decent. There is a feature-length audio commentary with writer/director Mark Herman and author John Boyne. There is an enlightening behind-the-scenes featurette entitled Friendship Beyond the Fenceand finally there are five deleted scenes and various trailers for Lionsgate films.