I love me some Sam Neill films. Ever since I was a wee lad and witnessed his awesomeness in Jurassic Park several times, I’ve had a strange attraction to his film. That and his great performances in Possession, Event Horizon, and In the Mouth of Madness. When I found out that BrinkDVD had released one of his lost films, I knew I had to jump on it.
For some reason Sam can’t get a break. There are plenty of films he’s done that have not found distribution in the States. Why? I dunno, maybe Americans secretly hate his guts. The Zookeeper languished for nearly a decade before finding a home and I’m glad it did.
Ok, so I wasn’t a history major in school but I believe The Zookeeper is about the Bosnian conflict. Sam Neil plays an ex-commie who worked behind the Iron Curtain as a somebody until the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed. After more than 20 years of service he was given the boot and began working at a run down zoo that happens to be in the middle of the conflict. He’s the last zookeeper as the rest of the employees have fled to safer lands. His decision to stay has more to do with clinging to what little he has than having warm and squishy feelings for the animals. When two refugees seek…refuge he begrudgingly takes them in and hides them from the partisans.
Sam Neill does a fantastic job here playing a grouchy man who has lost everything. His wife, his daughter and his career to the winds of change. His character arc is an obvious one, he learns how to love and live again, but even his growth as a human being comes begrudgingly. This is precisely the type of film I usually avoid. High powered human dramas don’t usually appeal to me. I’d much rather watch Charles Bronson blow something up, but i’m glad I did watch it. Most Americans know nothing about the struggles and conflicts around the world and I’m not much different. That lack of knowledge is probably what stopped the film from getting distribution, certainly it wasn’t due to lack of quality. The set pieces are great, with cool film stock and a heaping dose of gritty realism.
If you’re in the mood for a historical war drama, check out The Zookeeper. Sam Neill will thank you.