During World War II, a Nazi officer (David Thewlis) receives a promotion and moves his wife (Vera Farmiga), teenage daughter (Amber Beattie), and eight-year-old son Bruno (Asa Butterfield) to a remote country house. Almost immediately, Bruno spies through his bedroom window a nearby "farm" where the workers wear "striped pajamas." Curious and bored, Bruno sneaks out, makes his way through the woods, and comes upon a barbed-wire fence, behind which sits Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), a pale, thin, clearly starving boy Bruno's age. Bruno begins visiting Shmuel every day, and slowly — very slowly — comes to realize that strange and possibly terrible things are happening on this farm that his father oversees. In adapting Irishman John Boyne's acclaimed young-adult novel, writer-director Mark Herman (Little Voice) draws beautifully modulated performances from his two child actors, who navigate a full range of emotions from wonder to betrayal to guilt. In the end, their characters meet a fate so absurdly melodramatic that I cringed. A moment later, it occurred to me that the finale might just devastate — and educate — middle- and high-school-age audiences themselves only a little less naive than Bruno, who could do worse than have this earnest, well-made film be their first Holocaust drama.
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