So apparently Starz and the Netflix Watch Instantly queue are pretty close to synonymous. Which you would think would be a bigger inspiration for me to get HBO instead of Starz, but they charge too much for that package. Therefore, I will have to just keep running into movies on Starz that are already in my Watch Instantly queue that I haven't gotten to yet. That's how I ended up watching this flick after catching up on my DVR early Sunday morning.
Based on a novel of the same name, "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" follows the story of Bruno (Asa Butterfield) who is living a privileged life as the son of a high-ranking Nazi soldier. His father (David Thewlis) is suddenly transferred to a job out in the country where Bruno and his sister Gretel (Amber Beattie) must join him at his new post along with their mother (Vera Farmiga). While exploring the area, Bruno stumbles upon a "farm" which is actually a Jewish concentration camp. That is how he meets Shmuel (Jack Scanlon) who is Bruno's age and a prisoner at the camp. The two strike up a friendship in spite of their extremely contrasting lives. It's that very contrast that sets in motion a chain of events that would forever change both of their lives.
It was interesting to see how the two children were getting formulated by their environment. Bruno had lived a sheltered life which caused him to be very naive to the harsh realities of what was going on in the world around him. Even with his dad being a crucial part of the oppressive force that was creating such horrible conditions in their country and a pre-teen sister that is slowly buying into all the Nazi propaganda. You would think it would be impossible for a little boy to retain his innocence in the midst of all that yet Bruno does.
It would seem that Shmuel would have had all the innocence taken from him. There was in the horrible climate of a Jewish concentration camp where he was subjected to inhumane conditions that no child should have to experience. There's nothing he can be naive about because he is experiencing the worst kind of cruelty first hand. He fully understands his predicament and almost seems to accept his fate. Yet Bruno's arrival gives him a sense of hope, no matter how improbable that hope may be.
Director Mark Herman does an excellent job of capturing the purity of the friendship between the two little boys. Even though they live in two entirely different worlds, their bond transcends the metal barbwire that separates them. We get to see how they learn from each other in both good and bad ways. That's part of the growing process for children that age, but their surroundings causes their learning curve to have a potential for tragic consequences.
What I couldn't figure out is how Bruno was able to slip away for extended periods of time long enough to have those bonding sessions with Shmuel. Both of his parents knew how they close they were to the concentration camp. That's already too close in proximity to have your kid in the first place so why heighten the risk by not paying closer attention to where he is and what he's doing? I could see that maybe happening once by just a fluke lapse of judgment, but not several times.
Nevertheless, "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" is a very intriguing look at two distinct sides of privilege from a child's point of view. Anyone can see where it is going from the all of the foreshadowing that they throw in. However, thanks to the outstanding jobs done by the two child actor leads, the drama is played out well. I'm surprised this didn't get more consideration as a top film of 2008. Two years later and it's one of the best movies I've seen this year.
My rating: A -