THE BOOK THIEF // Having never read the book and having only experienced the trailer, I was fully under the impression that “The Book Thief” was more of a children’s film than that of one for adults, to which I was wholly wrong. With distinct themes of death and war, the film takes an interesting look at devotion and deep rooted ties during World War II, following a young orphaned girl, Liesel, whose passion for learning how to read brings her closer to her foster father and drives her further from the mindset of the Nazi regime. Filled with great performances, especially from Geoffrey Rush, it’s hard not to enjoy this heartwarming family period piece which really blows past expectations.
The first frames of the film involve a sweeping shot of clouds and a strange narrator, to whom you find out fairly quickly is Death himself. Having no clue as to what this film was really about, I was convinced I was in the wrong theater until the camera makes its way into a train and introduces the main young actress, Sophie Nélisse. At only 13 years old, Sophie is phenomenal, covering the impressive range of emotions necessary to bring this book to life. From curiosity to coy, from new found love to loss, her control is matched only by her innocence, which is a prerequisite in making this performance of Liesel pop. Thrust into a new family with Germans Hans and Rosa Huberman (Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson), Liesel is told her mother was a communist and was fleeing from the persecution, leaving her to be cared for someone that could offer stability. Although Rosa is a hard, deep woman (whom you eventually warm up to) is matched perfectly by her playful husband, Hans, who instantly connects with Liesel, calling her royalty and inviting her into the house.
Liesel experiences so much in a short time, from becoming a member in the Hitler Youth program, making friends with the boys around the neighborhood, witnessing book burnings and Nazi army movements, but the real story picks up when you find that Hans and Rosa do not support the Nazi regime and are simply playing a role to keep their heads down while the storm passes. This works out fine for them until one night, a Jewish man named Max Vandenburg (Ben Schnetzer) shows up at their door, starving and sick, having just escaped occupied Germany. Max is the son of a man that saved Hans’ life in World War I and so Hans, an extremely honorable man, feels an obligation to take him in and keep him hidden. Liesel and Max bond over his passion for reading as well and he even presents her with her first blank book to write in, a copy of “Mein Kampf” painted to be blank. Liesel continues to experience the pressures of the war, losing people close to her along the way.
Published in 2005-2006, the book that the film is adapted from was listed on The New York Times Best Seller list for over 230 weeks, which now makes this a must read. And with an impressive film that brims with emotion for the better part of the run-time, “The Book Thief” is an amazing look at the life of Germans that were under the Nazi rule but still did not agree with what was going on, not image that is often presented. Geoffrey Rush impresses with most of his performances, but he makes “The Book Thief” so much more approachable by being in it and plays perfectly next to the young Sophie Nélisse, who we will hopefully see in many more things to come. Matched with an amazing score from John Williams and some eye catching costume designs, and rich cinematography, “The Book Thief” is a grand slam of entertainment and history that completely shoots past expectations.
[Directed by Brian Percival] [PG-13] [131 min] [27 November 2013]