Director/Actor Taika Waititi is riding high, fresh off two smashes Hunt For The Wilderpeople and Thor: Ragnarok he could arguably direct anything about now.
However, Taika has chosen a difficult, delicate and potentially disastrous project, a comedy/drama story about a young Nazi German boy and his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi).
Get the tone wrong, offend many people and derail a promising career, Taika is effectively walking a tightrope over a pool of sharks.
Sensitive “JoJo” (Roman Griffin Davis) is a ten year old trainee Nazi in the Hitler youth, sent to camp to be indoctrinated with hate for all things Jewish and become a ruthless killer, initially of a rabbit hence his nickname.
The camp commandant “Captain Klenzendorf” (Sam Rockwell) is demonstrably unsuited to be in charge of youngsters with sharp knives and hand grenades, as is proven in short order.
Meanwhile JoJo’s single mother “Rosie” (Scarlett Johansson) is clearly not a Hitler fan and risks everything by hiding a young Jewish girl “Elsa” (Thomasin McKenzie) in the attic.
Whilst the film assumes some knowledge that Rosie’s actions would lead to certain death for all concerned, this is hammered home when the Gestapo come to call, albeit in the form of a mildly comedic “Deertz” (Stephen Merchant).
For those familiar with Wes Anderson films, the movie is not dissimilar in style, slightly comedic in parts, fantastical in others and deadly serious where it needs to be.
Any film that sets out as a satire on WW2 and in particular the persecution of Jews from a young boy’s perspective, better tread carefully. When the popular director/actor also stars as Adolf Hitler, alarm bells prepare to ring.
Somehow Waititi manages to avoid most missteps to craft a unique, highly personal and thoroughly original screenplay, based on the ideas from Christine Leunens novel “Caging Skies”.
Waititi is known for teasing out great performances from almost unknown child actors and achieves the same result here. Davis provides a suitably innocent audience view of the absurdity of the Nazi cult, with JoJo’s friend “Yorki” (Archie Yates) managing to steal the few scenes he is allowed (see him next in the “Home Alone” reboot).
Johannssen and Rockwell seem a little short changed, given the opportunity they might have added more, but Rockwell still manages an emotional send off. However, Alfie Allen and Rebel Wilson receive even less screen time which is a pity. The film does make good use of contemporary music, initially somewhat incongruous but somehow manages to work.
Any anti-hate movie in the current world environment is welcome indeed and in a sea of superheroes, remakes, reboots and re-imaginings one aspect is certain, there will be no sequel.
Not a perfect film, with an insurmountable hill to climb given the subject matter, but manages to pull off some real emotional punches when you least expect them.
Good box office on a small budget suggests this managed to sneak into the mainstream, no doubt helped with an Oscar win for Best Adapted Screenplay.
A daring film that might promise offense but manages to deal with complex themes within a highly watchable, delicately handled yet relatable story.
Waititi has deftly intertwined comedy, fantastical and tragic elements into a film with unexpected universal appeal.