Film Highlight: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Asa Butterfield as Bruno.
David Lukacs/Miramax Film Corp
Asa Butterfield as Bruno.

During World War II, a Nazi officer (David Thewlis) receives a promotion and moves his wife (Vera Farmiga), teenage daughter (Amber Beattie), and eight-year-old son, Bruno (Asa Butterfield), to a remote country house. Almost immediately, Bruno spies through his bedroom window a nearby "farm" where the workers wear "striped pajamas." Curious and bored, Bruno sneaks out, makes his way through the woods, and comes upon a barbed-wire fence, behind which sits Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), a pale, thin, clearly starving boy Bruno's age. Bruno begins visiting Shmuel every day, and slowly—very slowly—comes to realize that strange and possibly terrible things are happening on this farm that his father oversees. In adapting Irishman John Boyne's acclaimed young-adult novel, writer-director Mark Herman (Little Voice) draws beautifully modulated performances from his two child actors, who navigate a full range of emotions from wonder to betrayal to guilt. In the end, their characters meet a fate so absurdly melodramatic that I cringed. A moment later, it occurred to me that the finale might just devastate—and educate—middle- and high-school-age audiences (themselves only a little less naive than Bruno), who could do worse than have this earnest, well-made film be their first Holocaust drama.

 
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