The Zookeeper's Wife

Diane Ackerman’s nonfiction best seller The Zookeeper’s Wife drew on the diary of Antonina Zabinski to recount how Zabinski and her zoologist husband, Jan, used the grounds of the Warsaw Zoo to provide secret sanctuary for hundreds of Jews during the Nazi occupation of Poland. This tasteful screen adaptation, with Jessica Chastain in the title role and Belgian actor Johan Heldenbergh (The Broken Circle Breakdown) as Jan, opens with magical scenes of the couple and their young son living companionably alongside their exotic animal pals (the director, New Zealander Niki Caro, first came to prominence with the similarly themed Whale Rider). But once the Nazis roll in and shoot all the critters, the movie begins to feel like a budget version of Schindler’s List and drifts away into the deep blue sea of Holocaust dramas. Daniel Brühl, the industry’s leading Nazi-for-hire, provides the ostensible menace as a German officer who uses the zoo as part of his genetic breeding project and pressures Antonina to sleep with him.