A soft, yet harrowing vision is on view in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.
Starring Asa Butterfield, David Thewlis, and Vera Farmiga, this dream-like wartime picture seems to transfix reality in ways to fashion it as a compelling fable.
Butterfield proves the essential viewfinder as eight-year-old Bruno who feels stuck in his family life in the city. He's resistant to the idea of moving to the bucolic environs with Nazis commandant dad (Thewlis), mother (Farmiga), and pre-teen sister Gretel (Amber Beattie).
Bruno finds companionship when going off to a nearby unusual farm where all have on striped pajamas with a Jewish boy his age (Jack Scanlon) through the barbed wire. The curious, innocent lad who feels trapped begins to see his kind role model of a father in a different light.
An underpinning of a tragedy occurring close to Bruno is thoughtfully rendered as director and writer Mark Herman (Little Voice) works well with his crew, especially in the design work that distinguishes the harsher colors of their new country residence. Butterfield, who made a nice impression in Son of Rambow lets the naive character naturally take it all in as he plays "war games" with his city friends.
Hence, the insinuations of what is intriguing, yet brutal help the actors finely shade their roles, as in the way Thewlis and Farmiga represent loyalty towards one's country and family, respectively. Laudable support are offered by Rupert Friend as an intent protege and David Heyman as an incarcerated handyman.
Maybe The Boy in the Striped Pajamas loses its sharp focus in the final, emotional passages which maybe too easily points out the grimness. Yet, there's more to the "evil, dangerous vermin" around tyranny as Herman and his able cast are able to bring out the humanity after its too late to change the impact of their lives.