The Book Thief (2013)

Book Thief, TheReleased: November 27, 2013. Directed by: Brian Percival. Starring:  Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson. Runtime: 131 min.

“The Book Thief” follows a curious German twelve year-old named Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) during one of the most interesting time periods in history: the second World War, and a few years prior to it. Newly adopted by Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson) Hubermann, Liesel adjusts to her new lifestlye by making new friends and learning to read. She inspires other people with her curiosity, bravery and kindness.

This is based on the bestselling novel of the same name, that is actually a young adult novel, but it can be enjoyed by all audiences. The film is good, and it’s refreshing because it doesn’t seem that there are enough WWII films told by the perspective of the Germans. From this perspective, I think it shows us that, in a time of war, even our enemies still have humanity; and they’re as scared as the people of your home country would have been at this time. Liesel is a character who brings people hope in a time of despair; and she brings them that by the beauty of the written word, and the great messages lying within stories. She has a poetic way of speaking and a thirst for knowledge that is engaging. Her adoptive father Hans gives her a blackboard as a present that she can write down all the words that she learns; and it’s a heck of a lot. This is what shows how much she absorbs from everything.

Since she has learned to read, she needs to find a way to find more books – and sometimes, she has to resort to stealing. That’s why she’s called the Book Thief; but she’s only borrowing, there’s a place where she goes and it’s someone’s sort-of personal library – she just doesn’t need a library card. It’s just the old-fashioned, five-finger discount. It seems to me that she always brings it back. Before I discuss anything else, it’s kind-of funny that these books are in English. One would think that her primary language would be German living in Germany, but she speaks English, and one would think she would learn to read in German, considering that English isn’t one of Germany’s official languages. English is spoken in school and on the street that she lives, so it’s just not that realistic. I guess it beats having to read subtitles throughout the film; but really, all these people have is German accents and German names, speaking flawless English.

But regardless, many might not even notice during the viewing. It’s just funny to think about afterwards. One part of the story that is the most compelling is the aspect of it where Liesel’s adoptive family is harboring a Jew, a young man named Max (Ben Schnetzer) in their basement. There are suspenseful scenes and heartwarming scenes created by that component of the story. They are hiding the Jew because Hans has a debt that he feels he must repay to Max’s father; his life was saved by him during a war he fought in. He’s a very kind man that is warm and comforting to Liesel, and he is portrayed beautifully by Geoffrey Rush. Emily Watson portrays the man’s wife, Rosa, a much more sour woman, but she experiences an enjoyable character arc. My favourite performance of the film is by the lead, Sophie Nélisse who captures the curiosity of her character phenomenally well. The story is told from the innocence of her; she is much more accepting than others. This is partly contributed to the fact that her mother was a Communist, making her hate Adolf Hitler like a lot of others. Another character who is accepting is her best friend, Rudy (Nico Liersch), whose idol is Jesse Owens; he gets discriminated against because he idolizes a black man. These prejudices are portrayed really well in a story of the human spirit.

The relationship between Liesel and Rudy is good, and it’s portrayed as accurately as a relationship between two young friends can be; it isn’t as romanticized as it is in other films. Nico Liersch, who plays Rudy, is just okay for me. The story is also told by a narrator, and it’s a bit of an interesting creative choice. The narrator, as you’ll realize quickly, is the Angel of Death; a tonally good choice during such a disastrous time, but I’m indifferent about the creative choice, because some of his dialogue is silly, and in those moments you can tell this aspect of the story was tailored for young readers. Roger Allman is the narrator, and he has a good voice for it – and he sounds particularly evil in parts. He’s okay for me, overall. The film is a good one, with yet another great score by John Williams. It’s hopeful and inspiring, a sound that is really great for the film. This is a good war flick, with a few boring scenes (I guess the idea of someone simply reading can’t be too entertaining), but there are a few great performances that save those scenes, and they save some other aspects of the film, as well.

Score75/100

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2 Responses to The Book Thief (2013)

  1. CMrok93 says:

    Good review Dan. Could have been a lot worse, but then again, could have been a lot better as well. Still, wasn’t nearly as bad as some of the other, Holocaust-themed movies I’ve seen in the past. Especially those that somehow find themselves being released around Oscar-time.

  2. jjames36 says:

    Good thoughts. The performances definitely anchor this one, no matter its flaws.

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