The Book Thief is the new drama film based on the very popular book of the same name written by Markus Zusak. The book was first published in 2005 and remained on the New York Times Best Seller List for over 230 weeks. The film is directed by Brian Percival who is mostly known for his direction on television; most notably his work on the British drama, Downton Abbey. The film stars Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Sophie Nélisse, Nico Liersch, and Ben Schnetzer. The Book Thief served as the Closing Night Film for the 2013 Heartland Film Festival here in Indianapolis.
Narrated by Death, the film is set in Nazi Germany during the outset of World War II. Liesel (Nélisse) and her little brother are on a train to their new foster home when he is visited by death and taken from her. She is now all alone with her new foster parents, the cold and stern Rosa (Watson) and her joyful and kind husband Hans (Rush). Liesel has a fascination with books, but is unable to read and write. Hans takes it upon himself to open up a new world to her and give her as many opportunities as he can provide. Liesel has also caught the eye of the young boy next door, Rudy (Liersch), who is a loyal friend and the fastest boy in town. As the war breaks out, a young Jewish man named Max (Schnetzer) is forced from his home and he travels a great distance to the home of Hans and Rosa. Hans owes everything to Max’s father, so he agrees to hide him in the basement as long as he can. It’s here that Liesel and Max form a deep bond and they both serve as escapes for each other. As the war rages on, the heat intensifies against the Jews and the family is doing all they can to keep this secret hidden from everyone. Liesel is getting smarter by the day while the family struggles to make ends meet. Rudy is being recruited by the Nazi’s and he desperately wants to escape from it all. Friends and family must all come together to survive such a tragic time in history.
The Book Thief doesn’t break any new ground in its storytelling or filmmaking, but its a heartwarming film nonetheless. I do think it is a bit manipulative at times with the overly dramatic score and slow motion sequences which really pull at the heart strings. Another thing I really didn’t care for was the narration. The Grim Reaper or Death (whatever you want to call it) is the narrator and it just didn’t work for me, it felt like they were trying too hard. To this point in the reading, you’re probably thinking I didn’t really like much about the film, but that would be incorrect. The performances from most all of the actors were very good. I love everything Geoffrey Rush does and he is fantastic here as well. My only real complaint with him is that I wish he would work even more. Emily Watson, who plays his wife, was also excellent as she gets to show off her range in a really well written character. Lastly, the two child actors of Sophie Nélisse and Nico Liersch were both standouts and nearly stole every scene they were in. Although the subject matter of the Holocaust and Nazi Germany is very heavy and difficult, the film did a nice job to not overwhelm and was able to actually find something uplifting from such a grim time in history. With all that said, I still left the theater with the feeling of being unsatisfied. The Book Thief is a nice enough movie that will warm your heart and maybe even bring some tears, but in the end, it just left me wanting something more. I don’t see any reason to rush out to see this in the theater, but definitely worth a rental down the road.
The Book Thief opens on Wednesday, November 27.