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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

A timeless story of innocence lost and humanity found.

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. - Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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Directed by: 
Mark Herman
Running Time: 
94
Country(ies): 
UK/USA
Language: 
English
Starring: 
Vera Farmiga, David Thewlis, Rupert Friend, David Hayman
Screenplay by: 
Mark Herman based on the novel by John Boyne

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