‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ looks like Oscar bait. It has an Oscar-nominated actress in the lead role, a compelling score by composer Harry Gregson-Williams, emotional scenes where actors cry at the drop of a hat, and the words “Based on a true story”, but this is one of the few times where I can say that this attempt at being thought of during Oscar season really pays off. ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ tells the story of Antonia (Chastain) and Jan Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh), who run the Warsaw Zoo in Poland, yet have to find a way to survive when the German army starts bombing, causing Jews to flee with nowhere else to go, but to find shelter in the destroyed zoo.
Daniel Bruhl basically channels the English-language version of his character in ‘Inglourious Basterds’ as the ruthless German zoologist Lutz Heck, who spends the majority of the movie making sexual advances on a married Antonia (Supposedly, for dramatic effect.), while causing a raging jealousy on Jan. What Bruhl does with this role is as terrifying as Benicio Del Toro in ‘Sicario’, yet 1000x worse.
‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’, when compared to Steven Spielberg’s quiet masterpiece ‘Schindler’s List’ – about the holocaust – is a 100x more captivating with its terrifying demeanor, Oscar-worthy sound design, and an amazing set piece with the film’s first ten minutes being surrounded by animals, making the film feel like a National Geographic documentary, but quickly going into ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ levels of intensity with the bombing taking place.
Another great thing about ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ are the many animals you get to see, ranging from elephants, to lions and tigers (But not bears). They are not in the film much, but each time they are in peril, you feel bad for the dangers they face, as well as the injuries they take when they get hurt, or shot.
Much like ‘Schindler’s List’, and many other films focusing on the Nazi attacks in the era of World War II, ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ is not an easy watch. The emotion and situations prove to be too strong for some viewers, but these points are what make this film work. I have been waiting this entire year for a truly great film and ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ delivers.