When eight year old Bruno is told he is moving far away from home because his father, a soldier in the German army, has been promoted, he lives a lonely life until he finds a friend in Shmuel, a Jewish boy in a concentration camp.
This film perfectly encapsulates the innocence and wonder of what it is like being a child. Bruno does not know that due to the vicious dictatorship in place, the German people have outlawed Jewish people and have been brainwashed into believing that Jewish people are not human. Through Bruno’s perspective the audience is shown a real conflict of emotions, the love and admiration he has for his father are directly contested with his views of his new best friend.
This is a fantastically written script, not choosing to paint the Nazi soldiers and other Germans as true villains, instead painting with shades of grey and showing the audience a very human side that exists in every person. In doing this, it allows the audience to relate with Bruno and see how much he values his father and helps enhance the inner turmoil Bruno deals with throughout the film.
Asa Butterfield is very good as Bruno, not all the time convincing, but giving a strong enough performance considering his age. Butterfield brings a wide-eyed perspective and pure innocence to the film which improves the performance and enhances the character. The chemistry between him and Jack Scanlon, who plays Bruno’s friend Shmuel is great. Despite the limited scenes between them, they managed to put across that they were close friends, which allows the culmination of the film to have a much harder impact. Having said that, Jack Scanlon is easily showed up in the acting department by Asa Butterfield, who runs rings around Scanlon. They are both very young actors in this film but the acting gap between the two is noticeably substantial, especially in the first scene where they meet, while the chemistry is there between the two actors, Scanlon is dire.
David Thewlis and Vera Farmiga, as Bruno’s parents are the real stars of the film, both giving brilliant yet tonally different performances. Thewlis as the dignified Nazi soldier who unquestionably serves his country, contrasted against Farmiga who is a devoted mother with a heart of gold. Both actors are great support beams for the film as Bruno runs around exploring or sneaking off to speak with Shmuel, Thewlis and Farmiga are advancing the narrative in a very natural way.
The pacing of this film is ridiculous. The runtime of the film is 94 minutes and quite frankly, an extra 30-40 minutes could have easily been added onto the film to expand more and allow big story moments to breathe. Instead the film races along, not allowing the audience time to digest any of the emotional story beats throughout the film. In the end the film suffered greatly for it, as if the audience were given more time with the characters, more time to appreciate the story that is unfolding then the ending would have been even more impactful.
‘The Boy in the Striped Pajamas’ is not a beautiful looking film, it’s dreary, dull, and lifeless. In every meaning of the word it is basic, scene, transition, scene, etc. There are no editing flairs, no film making risks that reflect the adventurous side of Bruno. Where the majority of the film is told from Bruno’s perspective and how he sees the world, the actual look of the film is more like Shmuel’s life perspective. There’s nothing wrong of course with showing Nazi Germany and the concentration camps in a serious manner but it doesn’t match the tone of the script and as such just feels bland.
The film looks drab, but the story is great, filled with some great performances. However the pacing allows little time for any digestion of the story, which means the emotional weight is not fully realised.