JoJo Rabbit Review – Perfect, Palpable, One of the Best Pictures of The Year

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JoJo Rabbit, from Fox Searchlight Pictures, presents the unconventional story of a boy and his imaginary friend, who takes the form of Adolf Hitler, while he wrestles with the propaganda of life near the end of World War II.

Directed and written by and starring Taika Waititi, JoJo Rabbit also stars Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Stephen Merchant, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen and in his debut performance Roman Griffin Davis as JoJo. It is adapted from the book, "Caging Skies."


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The film begins in the bedroom of JoJo Betzler, played by Roman Griffin Davis, as he is preparing to join the ranks of the German Youth. His walls are decorated with the propaganda of the day. He is fighting mentally what he believes are his inadequacies, and is speaking with his imaginary friend, who happens to be, to him, the most powerful person in the world, Adolph Hitler, played by Taika Waititi.

Soon, after a pep talk by the imaginary Furhur, JoJo dressed in his German Youth solider uniform is prepared to be indoctrinated into the mind-bending world of Germany 1945. He is delivered to the German Headquarters for a day of brainwashing, by his mom, Rosie Betzler, played by Scarlett Johansson.

During the full day of Hitler Youth Camp, we meet Captain Klenzendorf, played by Sam Rockwell, his assistant Finkel, played by Alfie Allen, book burning and baby birthing Fraulein Rahm, played by Rebel Wilson. We also meet JoJo’s best friend Yorki, played by Archie Yates. The Gestapo, whom we meet later, is played by Stephen Merchant.

As the day progresses, the lessons are finally put to a test when a classroom of adolescent boys are let loose in the forest to learn knife techniques, explosives, and murder. Unskilled at all of it, JoJo fails miserably when asked to kill an innocent rabbit. Attempting to help the rabbit escape, he is caught by an evil, fully indoctrinated student, who in one swift move completes the act. Our JoJo distraught runs away, crying, as he is feels he is weak.

A pep talk by his imaginary friend Adolph has him fully recharged and prepared to be a Hitler Youth. He runs with abandon to the class hurdling the group, grabbing the explosive tossing it into the air with the strength of Zeus only to have it hit the tree and bounce back at his feet.

By afternoon, he is retired from the Hitler Youth and now with his face scarred from stitches, and walking with a slight limp, he is at home recuperating. Hearing heavy noises upstairs, he slowly makes his way to the noise. Standing in his sister’s room, he sees groove marks on the wood floors. He traces the mark with his fingers until he pry’s the hidden closet open.


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Slowly, he crawls into this wall space, seeing remnants of life, his flashlight illuminates a foot, then a face. In a moment a girl, Elsa, played by Thominsin McKenzie, says hello. Our JoJo, a Hitler Youth wanna’ be, is really still ten, and finding the enemy living in your attic terrifies him. Screaming, he runs.

It is at this point the film moves into the Second Act.

JoJo Rabbit is one of the best films of the year. After hearing many conflicting comments on the subject and if one only watched the promo’s one would see a hysterical Hitler, either running along side or chasing a boy, too bizarre and how dare they? I know that hits home.

It becomes apparent after screening the idea that a child would have an imaginary playmate or confident in the form of someone who at the time, next to his absentee father, was a person that he was groomed to admire and respect.


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The film is brilliant. The horrors of war, for the naysayers, are very present. At one point, I had to refrain from allowing myself to be overwhelmed with the level of emotion that bubbled to the surface. Some scenes are heart wrenching and resonate for days.

I also noticed when JoJo followed through on Adolf’s programmed response sorrow was the only outcome. For those who think this is a comical rendering of Hitler see the film before blindly making statements.

The film, which will be part of awards season and more importantly part of a larger conversation which determines as Stephen  Merchant said during the Press Conference, "the appropriate manner to retell taboo’s" and honestly JoJo Rabbit shatters the myths. The film will long be talked and studied for its audacity.


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The cast is brilliant. And one would expect the level of talent and ability to convey genuine, heartfelt emotion. The chemistry between the characters is palpable. I was very surprised at the depth and range of Roman Griffin Davis, in his debut performance, as he embodies JoJo, a ten-year-old caught up in evil beyond him. He carries the film. I wouldn’t be surprised in fact I would expect his performance to be nominated for an Academy Award.

JoJo Rabbit is more than engrossing, more than a world war II dramady, it is a brave, courageous, fearless, heart-wrenching, sorrowful, funny, loving film. A real emotional journey.

JoJo Rabbit opens October 18, 2019. A five-star film. Bring tissues.

 

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Image courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

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