The Book Thief

Small-Town Germany 1938


08 November 2013| No Comments on The Book Thief     by Sean Chavel


Perfectly maudlin with its triumph of the human spirit trappings. The Book Thief has well-meaning written all over it, the cast is often effective, but by the end it feels over-long, lumbering and without a substantial enough point. And while the tool isn’t too omnipresent, Death narrates the film with caustic observations – much of what is said would only be helpful to pre-teens new to the idea that the Holocaust existed. Death’s narration is as earnest as the Susie Salmon narration of “The Lovely Bones.” For the commonly sophisticated adult, it’s all rather patronizing.

Sophie Nelisse is a good enough young actress as Liesel, a girl who steals not one book from a Nazi bonfire, but several later from a luxuriant home. Whatever’s happening, she’s in for the books! Liesel is the foster child to two played by Emily Watson and Geoffrey Rush (no problem with those actors), who are harboring a young Jewish man (Ben Schnezter) in their basement. This young Jew needs to be read to by Liesel just to escape boredom. Watson is watchable because we are not used to seeing her play a peevish, never-satisfied harridan. Rush brings humanity, and authentic struggle, to his part of the better parent who manifestly cares about Liesel’s upbringing and development. Then there’s Rudy (Nico Liersch), the blonde Aryan boy who loves soccer and running, whom is either loyal friend or potential whistleblower on the Hubermann family. We get to know these people well enough.

Book Thief_ Good-Girl _Holocaust-Coming-of-AgeThe look of the movie is thankfully more individual than others of the Holocaust film canon, taking place in a small snow-capped town in Germany where the ideas of National Socialism are still murky and uncertain, but for the damn of it, must be followed. Nazis passing through town bring ugly harassment and violence to its people, predictably. England engages in the war and starts dropping bombs. That’s the outline, as young Liesel’s coming of age in the process is the core of the story, and a slightly trifling core it is often as the film goes.

I don’t want to make it sound like “The Book Thief” didn’t give me something to care about. It hinted at a thought-provoking microcosm of the Holocaust story in seeing how a distant town is pro-Hitler without fully understanding entirely what is going on with the war. The film might have had something if it committed to giving us a more thorough deconstruction on those ideas.

Based on the 2005 bestseller by Markus Zusak.

131 Minutes. Rated PG-13.


Film Cousins: “The Diary of Anne Frank” (1959); “Europa Europa” (1990, Germany); “Black Book” (2006, Denmark); “The Reader” (2008).

Book Thief _2013 WWII Post

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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