(director: Niki Caro; screenwriters: Angela Workman/based on the book on the diary of Antonina Zabinska by Diane Ackerman; cinematographer: Andrij Parekh; editor: David Coulson; music: Harry Gregson-Williams; cast: Jessica Chastain (Antonina Zabinska), Johan Heldenbergh (Jan Zabinska), Daniel Bruhl (Lutz Heck), Timothy Radford (Rysard Zabinska-younger), Efrat Dor (Magda Gross), Iddo Goldberg (Maurycy Fraenkel), Shira Haas (Urszula ), Michael McElhatton (Jerzyk), Vad Maloku (Rysard Zabinska-older); Producers: Jeff Abberley, Jamie Patricof, Diane Miller Levin, Kim Zubick (); Runtime: 124; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Jeff Abberley, Jamie Patricof, Diane Miller Levin, Kim Zubick; Focus Features; 2017)

This marvelous true story deserved a better film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Based on an amazing true story of an heroic Polish animal loving woman during the Holocaust who sheltered Jews in the abandoned Warsaw Zoo and along with her husband managed to save 300 Jews from the Nazi death camps. Director Niki Caro(“North Country”/”Whale Rider”) is fine on the visuals but doesn’t do much with the humanistic dramatics of this incredible story but keep it stiffly real. And that’s a shame because this marvelous true story deserved a better film. It’s based onDiane Ackerman’s nonfiction book, which is based on the diary of Antonina Zabinska. It’s blandly written byAngela Workman.

The Warsaw zookeeper is Jan (Johan Heldenbergh) and his wife is Antonina Zabinska (Jessica Chastain). The woman is amazing with the animals and even allows her young son (Timothy Radford) to sleep with the lion cubs.

The brave couple, after the bombing raids and Nazi invasion in August of 1939, risk their lives to sneak Jews out of the Warsaw ghetto in garbage trucks and hide them during World War II in cages in the underground tunnels of their abandoned zoo. They do this while the occupying Nazi soldiers patrol the area, and while the creepy villainous Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl), Berlin’s head zoologist, arrives in Warsaw to take the surviving animals back to Berlin for “selective breeding” experiments. Hee makes his unwelcome presence felt even more by also flirting with the wary Antonina.

It’s a story that should have been tense and frightening throughout, but the storytelling weakens and can’t keep the tension from fizzling. This, unfortunately, turns out to be another mediocre Holocaust movie that’s at least bolstered by a few bright spots with the animals.

REVIEWED ON 4/8/2017 GRADE:C+   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/