THE ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE (film) is too pretty and clean

Director: Niki Caro.
Cast: Jessica Chastain / Daniel Brühl / Johan Heldenbergh
Content Rating:  PG 13 for thematic elements, disturbing images, violence, brief sexuality, and nudity.
Source: Rented.

The Zookeeper's Wife tells the account of keepers of the Warsaw Zoo, Antonina and Jan Zabinski, who helped save hundreds of people and animals during the German invasion.

This film is pleasant. It didn't amaze me, it didn't make me love or hate it, but it was an understated movie delicately sprinkled with heartache.
I only watched it because I love Chastain so much. And she certainly carried it.

Visually, it's enchanting and idyllic. Gorgeous sets, striking costumes, and scenes delicately brushed with soft glows and ravishing tones. It's beautiful to watch - no doubt about it. And the cinematography is also stunning.

But the dialogue is boring, and often ruins scenes that would otherwise be extremely powerful in total silence. The characters often say things that don't need to be said, and thus the scene loses its emotional grip on the viewer. It's wasted.
Most of the scenes themselves are wasted opportunities. Some of them don't add to the story, and some just feel tedious when the plot's already taking too long to get going. There are heartbreaking moments, yet I never shed a tear; there are scenes I know I would otherwise be crying at (I cry extremely easy in movies) but I never did.
Why? Because they lacked punch.

It's too soapy. Pretty, too clean, and far too nice. It's too sugar-coated and lovely, and there's no emotional punch or real horror. The story's tragic, but the movie never whacks you with the realisation because everything's kept too comfortable; you feel sympathy for the characters, definitely, but it's not profound. Even when there are gut-wrenching moments (example: when that young girl is assaulted - off screen - by two soldiers, and later emerges from the alley with blood on her legs and clearly in shock) it feels romanticised. Here's a pivotal moment to showcase the utter barbarity of the Nazi occupation and what the soldiers were capable of doing to the common people who had no say, but the scene does not hit as hard as it could have. It doesn't mock or cast those types of tragic scenes in a good light, it just doesn't dare to make them real.

The acting is solid. The characters are slightly contrived, but Jessica Chastain gives an incredibly understated and heartrending performance. Her character gets decent development, and through her courageous but outstandingly humble and subtle efforts to help the Jews and save her own family, she's an inspiring heroine I never stopped rooting for. I loved the feminist example she was, and how her quiet strength got the spotlight.

The Zookeeper's Wife is beautifully shot, and shares a generally unseen and unheard of perspective of the War by focusing on the lives of people affected in a different way. But it's too clean and idyllic to pack the emotional punch the story so desperately needs.
Jessica Chastain's performance, although slightly contrived, is certainly what carries the film.


  1. I haven't read the book or seen the movie yet, but it seems like it would be such an emotional, strong story. Sorry to hear it didn't live up to that!

    1. Yeah it's so disappointing!
      Thanks for the comment, Angela :)

  2. I have been really wanting to see this movie!!

  3. I'm not a big movie person because they never seem to catch my attention the way TV shows do; however, I have been curious about this one. That's too bad about the dialogue...I feel like good dialogue is almost required so for it to be so stilted kind of turns me off on this one. Great review! :)

    1. Bad dialogue is always disappointing :(
      Thanks Lauren!

  4. There was so much hype around all of this movie-- even with the clean dialogue, what the movie is based on, though, is still pretty compelling.

    xoxo Abigail Lennah | ups & downs

  5. I remember seeing a trailer for this at the theater a while back and while I was just dying to see it I thought I would probably get to it eventually. Especially because it looked as if it was be incredibly emotional and impactful. I'm so surprised and disappointed to see that instead it sounds like it's pretty watered down and bland instead of emotional and intense. What a letdown. :(

    Tanya @ Girl Plus Books

    1. I thought so too! I mean, I guess it was compelling, but it just wasn't real enough.
      It was :(

      Thanks for stopping by, Tanya!