The film's two levels -- metaphoric and nitty-gritty -- don't mesh until the devastation of the closing sequence, which both indulges in and transcends melodrama.
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Opening half-hour has some of the best stuff in the movie, walking a precarious line between black irony and showing the war from a totally German viewpoint, without tipping over into gallows humor or parody.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas should be heartbreaking, but it isn't. The muted quality of its impact is the result of narrative shortcuts and a desire to keep the images from being too startling.
An appalling, jaw-dropping movie that will cause serious nightmares.
Boyne's tale is starkly cautionary, and writer-director Herman handles a difficult topic with great sensitivity, drawing splendid performances from his young actors with David Thewlis and Vera Farmiga and the other grown-ups reliably efficient.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is not only about Germany during the war, although the story it tells is heartbreaking in more than one way. It is about a value system that survives like a virus.
Herman's intentions are admirable, but his results are unsettling in the worst ways.
In key ways, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is like Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth": a child, caught in the waking nightmare of one of history's ugliest times, confronting the horrors of a grown-up world, and dealing with them as best he, or she, can.
The film has any number of chances to exploit the setting and Butterfield's wide-eyed innocence, but instead, it mines a vast, eerie tension by keeping both boys in the dark.