If any book could benefit from a big screen adaptation, surely John Boyne's 2005 fable is ripe for the picking. Boyne created a wonderful plot premise: Bruno, a nine-year-old German boy and his family leave their Berlin home to live at "Out-With" death camp, where his father is the commanding officer, but his execution of the story was at times sloppy, patronizing, and unfulfilling. Thankfully, Mark Herman's directorial lead evens out any of the tonal malfunctions from what Boyne's narrative suffered. Where Boyne made a ham-fisted attempt to underline Bruno's wide-eyed innocence and childlike egocentricity through basic language and imagery, Herman recreates a suitably kiddish world, showing Bruno (Asa Butterfield) playing with his chums around their mansion and creating an air of giddiness and exploration in the opening movement.
A greater complexity of mood comes with Bruno and his family's move to the fringes of the death camp. The sense of exploration is counterbalanced with a sense of anxiety. Bruno finds out something what could well mark the end of his innocence. Similarly, the childlike arguments between Bruno and his sister, Gretel (Amber Beattle), are contrasted with the sinister work of their father. Gretel's flirtation with a Nazi officer and her closeness to her father – played with superb conviction by the ever-charismatic David Thewlis – allow the sinister aura to creep overwhelmingly into the atmosphere, up until the final, fatal, close.
Youth coming to terms with the sometimes viciousness of the world around it in a wartime environment recalls del Toro's recent masterpiece Pan's Labyrinth on several occasions – Bruno's discovery in the forest, in particular. While The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas does not quite scale the complex heights of Pan, it still makes for a suitably hard-hitting fable about the loss of innocence.