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The Book Thief - Movie Review

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The Book Thief - Movie Review

2 stars

There’s a bothersome disconnect between the story being told in The Book Thief and what we see on the screen.

Set in a small German town during the years surrounding the beginning of World War II, as Hitler’s villainous reign of control for hearts and minds is ramping up, the film’s look is oddly stark, colorful, and impeccably manicured. Beautifully assembled set pieces and characters donning perfectly tailored period costumes lend the set designs a schmaltzy, theme park presence – as if plopped smack-dab between Disney World’s Adventureland and Main Street, USA.

Counter that to The Book Thief’s story, adapted by Brian Percival from Markus Zusak’s best-selling 2005 novel of the same name which goes for a dark and menacing doom. Well, as dark and menacing as allowed with a PG-13 rating.

The two pieces repel like oil and water, leaving us with a syrupy, surface-level product that fails to strike a significant chord with tweens, adults, military historians, and especially Oscar voters who are being courted by the film’s rush from a 2014 release to this year’s Oscar season.

The book thief of the title is a spirited and courageous little girl named Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) who is brought from the German countryside to live with her new adoptive parents. Why or how this adoption was arranged isn’t made exactly clear, but we eventually figure out that she and her young brother were taken from their communist mother who was persecuted by the Nazis and forced to surrender the children to the state-mandated care of Rosa (Emily Watson) and Hans (Geoffrey Rush) Hubermann.

Teased at school because of her inability to read, and timid around the new family she’s just met, Liesel struggles to fit in, but the determined child discovers the wonder of books when she’s taught to read by her kindhearted “Papa” who, along with Liesel, keeps a secret dictionary of newly learned words on the chalkboard in their home’s musty basement.

Also stowed away in the cellar is a hidden Jewish guest named Max (Ben Schnetzer) who shares Liesel’s passion for books and encourages the little girl to expand her powers of observation, even as he avoids the prying eyes of the Nazi SS. Equally life-changing is Liesel’s newfound friendship with a young neighbor boy named Rudy (Nico Liersch) who harbors a secret crush on the girl he nicknames “The Book Thief” because of her penchant for “borrowing” books from the burgomaster’s home.

Young Sophie Nélisse is wonderful as the wide-eyed Liesel. In fact, director Brian Percival manages to get the most from his entire cast in spite of Michael Petroni’s neutered script. Rush warms Liesel’s heart – and ours – as the happy-go-lucky Hans, and Watson gives her character a well-developed arc from prickly Hausefrau to protective mother as the authorities – in addition to the allies – close in. But it’s all inconsequential lip service to a plot that fails to transfer any of the gusto from the pages of Zusack’s rich novel about finding beauty in even the ugliest of circumstances. Hitler’s Henchmen aren’t really scary (although their uniforms sure are pretty) and the danger never feels real. Harboring Jews could have meant your life back then, and stealing books from the local authorities would certainly bring down a heap of trouble as well, but even as the war rages on, its consequences, and the talk about it, remain simplistic.

On the positive side of the ledger is the refreshingly atypical view we get of the onset of war through the eyes of regular German folk. Though the debate about the degree of complicity and collusion of the average German citizen to the Nazi cause won’t be solved here, it’s nice to see the other side of the discussion for once.

The Book Thief - Movie ReviewMPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence and intense depiction of thematic material
Runtime:
131 mins
Director
: Brian Percival
Writer
: Michael Petroni
Cast:
Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson
Genre
: Drama | Military
Tagline:
From the Studio that brought you The Life of Pi
Memorable Movie Quote: "I'm not such a good reader myself, you know. We'll have to help each other out."
Distributor:
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Official Site: http://www.thebookthief.com/
Release Date:
November 8, 2013 (limited)
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
No details available

Synopsis: Based on the beloved bestselling book, The Book Thief tells the inspirational story of a spirited and courageous young girl who transforms the lives of everyone around her when she is sent to live with a new family in World War II Germany.

No details available

 

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