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The Zookeeper's Wife: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

The Zookeeper's Wife (2017) movie poster The Zookeeper's Wife

Theatrical Release: December 2, 2016 / Running Time: 100 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Niki Caro / Writers: Angela Workman (screenplay); Diane Ackerman (book)

Cast: Jessica Chastain (Antonina Zabinski), Johan Heldenbergh (Jan Zabinski), Daniel Brühl (Lutz Heck), Timothy Radford (Ryszard Zabinski - younger), Efrat Dor (Magda Gross), Iddo Goldberg (Maurycy Fraenkel), Shira Haas (Urszula), Michael McElhatton (Jerzyk), Val Maloku (Ryszard Zabisnki - older), Goran Kostic (Mr. Kinszerbaum), Arnošt Goldflam (Dr. Janusz Korczak), Marián Mitaš (Stefan), Jitka Smutna (Pietrasia), Waldemar Kobus (Dr. Ziegler)

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The film industry keeps finding new ways to revisit the Holocaust.
Sometimes, as in 2014's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner Son of Saul, the stories focus on the horrors endured. Other times, like Schindler's List and The Pianist, it is a case of hope emerging from such bleak circumstances. The Zookeeper's Wife certainly belongs to the latter class. It tells the true story of Jan (Johan Heldenbergh) and Antonina Zabinski (Jessica Chastain), who own the Warsaw Zoo.

In 1939, with Germany invading Poland, the couple sees their animals killed and their facility taken over by Nazi officials, including Berlin Zoo keeper and Hitler associate Dr. Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl). As if the animal massacre and aerial bombing isn't bad enough, there are also the Jews being taken to the concentration camps whose atrocities we know better than they do.

From this bleakness, the Zabinskis bravely begin hiding Jews facing such a fate, beginning with a young girl.

Jessica Chastain adopts a Polish accent to portray Antonina Zabinski, the titular heroine of the World War II drama "The Zookeeper's Wife."

Adapted from the 2007 book of the same name by Diane Ackerman, Zookeeper's Wife manages to present the Holocaust from a new angle we haven't seen before. It shines a light on brave heroism few would know about coming in. Unfortunately, it fails to do so in a compelling or moving manner.

With her big breakout year in 2011, Chastain quickly rose up to near the top of Hollywood's most respected actresses. She has mostly used her clout for good and she doesn't phone in any of her performances. But even a valiant effort from the actress cannot save a film that doesn't otherwise work. We saw it on 2013's paycheck project Mama.
We saw it with last year's DOA lobbyist drama Miss Sloane. And now we see it here. It's not that a different actress would have made the film better. It's that The Zookeeper's Wife was destined to disappoint. It probably disappoints less than it would with someone other than Chastain filling the lead role.

Who deserves the blame for the film's failings? Director Niki Caro (Whale Rider) and screenwriter Angela Workman, I guess. They fail to move with what is perhaps the most harrowing chapter in 20th century history. It's polished enough but the lack of a greater emotional impact makes the film fall short of its goal.

On the other hand, Zookeeper's Wife managed to be one of the breakout indie hits of 2017, grossing $17.4 million from a max release of just over 1,000 theaters. That is a marked improvement from Chastain's last vehicle, the aforementioned Miss Sloane, which disappointed thoroughly last fall, making just $3.5 million in 1,600 theaters. Chastain's star power will again be tested in this November, when she stars in Aaron Sorkin's directorial debut Molly's Game.

Meanwhile, Zookeeper's Wife hit Blu-ray and DVD last week on the Fourth of July from Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

The Zookeeper's Wife: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), 5.1 DTS (Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Video Service)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Extras Subtitled; Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: July 4, 2017
Suggested Retail Price: $34.98
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.98 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Zookeeper's Wife looks pleasant enough. The Blu-ray's 2.40:1 presentation shows off the competent period production design without any concerns, though it's not as flashy as say a Steven Spielberg or Christopher Nolan approach to the same material might have been. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack is satisfactory, without often wowing.

Antonina (Jessica Chastain) is horrified by the sight of Jews being killed in broad daylight in this deleted scene. Director Niki Caro discusses the film in "The Making of 'The Zookeeper's Wife."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Extras begin with six very short deleted scenes (3:57).

They're too short to have made any real difference on the film, but at over 2 hours plus credits, you can understand why cuts had to be made.

"The Making of The Zookeeper's Wife" (7:06) is pretty much exactly what you'd expect of a 7-minute making-of featurette, unfolding with behind-the-scenes clips and some cast and crew talking heads.

Finally, "The Zabinski Family" (3:57) celebrates the real people dramatized in the film with subtitled Polish interview clips of their descendants as well as some admiring remarks from the cast and crew.

The discs open with a Focus Features promo and trailers for The Book of Henry and The Ottoman Lieutenant. The Blu-ray's "Previews" allows you to be treated to a timely trailer streamed from the Internet. The DVD's Previews menu supplies ads for The Theory of Everything, The Danish Girl, Hyde Park on Hudson, Loving, Race, and Suffragette/

The static menu attaches score to a straightforward adaptation of the poster/cover art.

The two plain discs share an eco-friendly blue keepcase with a Digital HD code insert (whose back supplies a code for another free digital movie from Universal for signing up for email updates). The case is topped by an embossed slipcover.

As Nazi zoologist Dr. Lutz Heck, Daniel Brühl scowls the scowl of a villain.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Zookeeper's Wife reopens the wounds of the Holocaust with a unique angle, but not a particularly compelling one. Despite a good, committed lead performance by Jessica Chastain, this period drama fails to move or even sustain your interest. Universal's combo pack offers a satisfactory feature presentation, but the film is not quite good enough to even recommend seeing once.

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Related Reviews:
New to Disc: Land of MineNorman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York FixerThe Sense of an EndingLifeLoganTable 19
Jessica Chastain: Miss SloaneZero Dark ThirtyThe HelpLawlessInterstellarMamaCoriolanusThe Tree of Life
Daniel Bruhl: BurntThe Fifth EstateCaptain America: Civil WarWoman in Gold | Directed by Niki Caro: McFarland, USA
The Boy in the Striped PajamasSon of SaulThe Monuments MenWe Bought a ZooThe Zookeeper

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Reviewed July 15, 2017.



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