Perfectly alright 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 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.”
Sophie Nelisse is an excellent young actress as Liesel, who steals not one book from a Nazi bonfire, but several later from a luxuriant home. She 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 — who needs to be read to by Liesel, 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.
The 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 is still murky and uncertain, but for the damn of it, must be followed. Nazis passing through town bring ugly harassment and violence to its own people. England engages in the war and starts dropping bombs. That’s the outline, the young Liesel’s coming of age in the process is the core of the story, and a slightly trifling core it is at times.
I don’t want to make it sound like “The Book Thief” didn’t give me something to care about. It’s occasionally a thought-provoking microcosm of a Holocaust story in seeing how a distant town is pro-Hitler without fully understanding entirely what is going on in the war. We watch Liesel mature in terms of courage and awareness of the world. You might want to watch this film for those reasons.
Based on the 2005 bestseller by Markus Zusak.
131 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
HISTORICAL DRAMA / WWII /WEEKEND FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Film Cousins: “The Diary of Anne Frank” (1959); “Europa Europa” (1990, Germany); “Black Book” (2006, Denmark); “The Reader” (2008).