By Nathan Peterson
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Jack Scanlon, David Thewlis, Vera Farmiga, Rupert Friend
Reviewing films can be a tricky thing. If you come across a film you truly love, you can spend hours waxing lyrical about all the positives you took from the experience. A similar thing can happen when you watch a terrible movie, albeit the focus shifts to the negatives. But what happens when you get a film that sits in between and doesn’t really move you either way?
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (or Pajamas for my American friends) tells the story of two young boys who befriend each other under the most terrible of circumstances; Bruno whose Nazi Officer father is presiding over a concentration camp, and Shmuel, a Jew boy and prisoner in said camp. One day, Bruno goes exploring and comes across the titular boy in striped “pyjamas” sitting behind an electrified fence.
Movies dealing with the holocaust are obviously going to be troubling affairs, and over the last 12 months I have been lucky enough to watch both Life is Beautiful and The Pianist. Both films were tragic in their own separate ways and contained powerful performances twinned with some chilling imagery to leave me speechless. As such, the prospect of watching another holocaust movie, this time centred around children, had me more than worried that I would spend 90 minutes with a heavy heart. I needn’t have been worried.
Firstly let’s address the acting, and in this respect, some of my views may not be well received. Thewlis and Farmiga handle their roles as Bruno’s mother and father adequately, in particular Farmiga whose emotional downfall is dealt with commendably. However neither stands out, which pains me to say, as I have incredible amounts of time for both.
As for the children, Butterfield and Scanlon……wow. For me they just weren’t strong enough, and given that they have the most screen time, their performances ruined any of the emotion I should have felt at their beautiful friendship growing, and the haunting events happening the backdrop. From one scene to the next their dialogue was both clunky (which admittedly is not their fault) and poorly delivered.
But please don’t think I have fallen into the trap of measuring their acting against the adults, who obviously have more experience, because I am measuring them against such standards that have given us Chloe Grace-Moretz, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Soairse Ronan and any other number of talented young actors in recent years. Based on this film alone, these kids aren’t up to scratch, although with Butterfield starring in last year’s hit Hugo and the adaptation of the Ender’s Game novels, I am sure he is better than this film allows him to be.
Behind the camera, Mark Herman directs the whole movie sufficiently, but does nothing significant to add to the emotion of the film, other than the final scene, which I will have to admit is pretty shocking. Alot of the tragedy is only hinted at clumsily, and perhaps if they had used this to better effect, this film could have been the modern classic it deserves to be.
One final moan before I wrap this up. I appreciate that this is a film made by the BBC, largely starring British actors, based on a book written by an Irishman. I get that. But what mustn’t be forgotten is that this is a film set in Germany, with German characters. So why, oh why, do all the characters have English accents? I am not talking about English-speaking German-accented characters, but bona fide “How do you do? Would you like some tea?” Englishmen (and women). It’s such a minor thing, but given the tragic event of the last century, I just feel this is somewhat disrespectful to the story.
Overall the film is passable, and I think anyone who is interested in watching it should still do so, but to me it felt like watching a childrens movie about the holocaust that, other than the ending, doesn’t dare to escape it’s shackles.
3 out of 5