David Strat­ton

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

Get Out (MA15+) Na­tional re­lease The Zookeeper’s Wife (M) Na­tional re­lease

The new thriller Get Out has been com­pared, un­der­stand­ably, with Guess Who’s Com­ing to Din­ner, Stan­ley Kramer’s earnest, trail­blaz­ing film made 50 years ago. Race re­la­tions in Amer­ica and else­where were far less re­laxed then than they are now, and the idea of a “nice” young white girl (Katharine Houghton) de­ter­mined to marry an African-Amer­i­can and bring­ing him home to meet her par­ents was con­fronting for many.

The cast­ing made a great deal of dif­fer­ence: Katharine Hep­burn and Spencer Tracy played the sym­pa­thetic par­ents, and ev­ery­one’s favourite black actor at the time, Sid­ney Poitier, played the boyfriend. It helped that his char­ac­ter was a doc­tor, ed­u­cated, po­lite and well spo­ken. Kramer was be­ing con­tro­ver­sial but still play­ing it fairly safe (none­the­less, Aus­tralia’s vig­i­lant film cen­sors of the time elim­i­nated some of the di­a­logue spo­ken by Tracy, in what proved to be his fi­nal film).

Times have changed and the nice young white girl in Get Out hasn’t even both­ered to tell her par­ents that the pho­tog­ra­pher she has been dat­ing for five months is black. Rose (Al­li­son Wil­liams) and Chris (Bri­tish actor Daniel Kalu­uya) are al­ready liv­ing to­gether when she de­cides they should spend a week­end with her mum, Missy (Cather­ine Keener), a hyp­nother­a­pist, and dad, Dean (Bradley Whit­ford), a neu­ro­sur­geon, at their grand but iso­lated home in the coun­try. She as­sures Chris her par­ents aren’t racist. Dur­ing the jour­ney, with Rose driv­ing, their car col­lides with a deer on a wooded road and the (white) cop who comes to file a re­port clearly is racist. But when they ar­rive at the house, Dean greets Chris with a hug, and their first evening to­gether would have been a very pleas­ant and re­laxed oc­ca­sion if not for the ar­rival of Rose’s brother (Caleb Landry Jones), who acts rather strangely. Then there are the ser­vants, Ge­orgina (Betty Gabriel) and Wal­ter (Mar­cus Hen­der­son), both black, who live in the house — their at­ti­tudes to­wards Chris seem rather odd, too. Clearly there’s some­thing not quite right, but what ex­actly is wrong?

Get Out is the first film di­rected by Jor­dan Peele, known in the US as co-star of the TV show Key & Peele. It’s a very up-to-the-minute story in that it’s firmly lo­cated in Trump’s Amer­ica (on two oc­ca­sions we’re told that Dean would have voted for a third term for Barack Obama if that were pos­si­ble). With­out wish­ing to give too much away about how the plot de­vel­ops, it’s safe to say the film pulls a con­sid­er­able switch on the tra­di­tional hor­ror movie in which it’s in­vari­ably the mi­nor­ity race char­ac­ters who are the first to be killed.

Peele, who also scripted, is very good at writ­ing barbed di­a­logue, and as the film pro­ceeds the au­di­ence is likely to feel as un­com­fort­able as Chris. Another key char­ac­ter — I won’t re­veal which one — un­der­goes a re­mark­able and de­cid­edly chill­ing trans­for­ma­tion dur­ing the course of the drama.

The film is a con­sid­er­able suc­cess, es­pe­cially given it’s the writer-di­rec­tor’s first fea­ture. His slow build-up is ex­tremely ef­fec­tive as he piles small de­tail upon small de­tail un­til the drama ex­plodes in the vi­o­lence that hor­ror movie afi­ciona­dos de­mand. For my taste, the vi­o­lent el­e­ments in the film are a bit ex­ces­sive, as is the com­edy rou­tine pro­vided by Mil­ton “Lil Rel” How­ery, who plays Chris’s best friend and his one link with the out­side world. But these are rel­a­tively mi­nor draw­backs in a film that is so timely and so sub­ver­sive. By the time you get to the point where the ar­rival of a po­lice car seems cer­tain to in­di­cate dan­ger rather than sal­va­tion you be­gin to un­der­stand the African-Amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence. Kalu­uya is ex­tremely good as the Get Out; The Zookeeper’s pro­tag­o­nist but it’s Wil­liams who steals the film as the beau­ti­ful, in­tel­li­gent young wo­man whose de­ci­sion to bring her part­ner home to meet her par­ents re­sults in such an un­ex­pected and in­deed ter­ri­fy­ing se­ries of events. The Zookeeper’s Wife is a true story of the Holo­caust. It’s based on a book of the same name by Diane Ack­er­man that was based on the diaries of An­ton­ina Zabin­ska and the end cred­its ac­knowl­edge the co-op­er­a­tion of Zabin­ska’s two chil­dren. The cen­tral role is played by Jes­sica Chas­tain, and the di­rec­tor is New Zealan­der Niki Caro, whose first fea­ture, Whale Rider, is still her best known.

It’s another amaz­ing story, in the tra­di­tion of Schindler’s List and oth­ers, about gen­tiles who risked their lives to help their Jewish com­pa­tri­ots. As such it is bound to be in­spi­ra­tional, but dra­mat­i­cally it falls some­what short of the most suc­cess­ful films on this sub­ject.

The film opens in the sum­mer of 1939 with lyri­cal scenes in which An­ton­ina cy­cles cheer­fully through the zoo she owns to­gether with her hus­band, Jan (Bel­gian actor Jo­han Helden­bergh), fol­lowed by a baby camel and talk­ing to the an­i­mals as though she’s chan­nelling Julie An­drews play­ing a fe­male ver­sion of Dr Dolit­tle. She’s de­voted to her an­i­mals, and in the mid­dle of a for­mal re­cep­tion at the zoo at­tended by Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl), rep­re­sent­ing the Berlin Zoo, she leaves the guests to help re­vive a sick baby ele­phant at some per­sonal risk from the an­i­mal’s anx­ious mother.

Be­fore long Ger­many in­vades Poland and dur­ing the bomb­ing of the city the zoo is badly dam­aged, ter­ri­fy­ing the an­i­mals, many of which flee their shat­tered cages to roam the streets of the city. The Zabin­skas are per­mit­ted to con­tinue to live in the zoo when they strike a deal with Heck, now an SS of­fi­cer as­signed to War­saw, to raise pigs to feed the oc­cu­py­ing Ger­mans. For pig food they’re given ac­cess to the ghetto and its piles of garbage. One day Jan wit­nesses the sex­ual as­sault on a young Jewish girl (Shira Haas), and this in­ci­dent angers him so much he de­ter­mines to try to help the in­mates of the ghetto, not­ing that “Jews or Gen­tiles — it never mat­tered to me”. And so he uses his ac­cess to the closed-off sec­tion of the city to smug­gle Jews out of their con­fine­ment and hide them in cel­lars be­low the zoo.

The grim story fol­lows a fairly fa­mil­iar pat­tern. An­ton­ina has to stave off the ad­vances of Heck, and Jan has some nar­row es­capes as he comes and goes to the ghetto. Even­tu­ally he joins the Pol­ish Re­sis­tance as the war draws to an end.

The film was largely made in the Czech Repub­lic, and the cast mem­bers, drawn from sev­eral coun­tries, speak English with a va­ri­ety of ac­cents. Chas­tain’s Pol­ish ac­cent is mod­er­ately con­vinc­ing but a little dis­tract­ing. With this sort of in­ter­na­tional pro­duc­tion the fact ev­ery­one speaks English with a dif­fer­ent ac­cent is of­ten a prob­lem.

Caro cre­ates some im­pres­sive scenes, some in­volv­ing the fates of the an­i­mals, one in­volv­ing a mother and daugh­ter who think they’ve es­caped. But on the whole the film never quite man­ages to cre­ate the re­quired mood, even though it re­minds us once again of the scale and hor­ror of one of the great­est crimes of the 20th cen­tury.


Cather­ine Keener, top left, Bradley Whit­ford, Al­li­son Wil­liams, Betty Gabriel and Daniel Kalu­uya in Jes­sica Chas­tain and scenes from Wife, above

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