The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

You may not buy into actors playing Nazis with hightoned Brit accents, but the power of this Holocaust tale sneaks up and floors you. Writer-director Mark Herman has adapted John Boyne's novel with admirable restraint. Eight-year-old Bruno (Asa Butterfield) isn't pleased when he and older sister Gretel (Amber Beattie) are forced to leave their friends in Berlin and settle in a remote area where Bruno's commandant father (David Thewlis) has been stationed. The kids and their mother (Vera Farmiga) believe the fence they see outside their window encloses a farm, not a concentration camp. Bruno even ventures out of bounds and meets Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), the boy in striped pajamas behind the fence. They develop a dangerous, covert friendship with devastating results. Delicate allegorical business is being transacted here – a realization of evil seen from a child's point of view. The premise doesn't excuse lapses in logic (the boys would have been spotted instantly), but the power of the story and the performances – young Butterfi eld amazes – is indisputable.

From The Archives Issue 1065: November 13, 2008