The Book Thief Movie Review

Upon learning Markus Zusak’s novel THE BOOK THIEF was to be adapted for the silver screen, I was immediately torn.  Feeling extreme excitement of seeing my favorite characters come to life yet panic and worries for the filmmakers washed over me. Would they be able to translate this beloved tale properly? Completely understanding that books and films are different mediums, I hate the phrase “the book was better”.  I fully know that when placed in the proper hands, tales can come to life with positive results (looking at you HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE).  Alas, this rendition of THE BOOK THIEF falls short of meeting my high expectations.

Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Sophie Nélisse in The Book Thief

For those unfamiliar with this special novel, THE BOOK THIEF is an interesting story that is narrated by Death during World War II in Nazi Germany and follows a young foster child named Liesel Meminger.  For a story that is intended for young adults, the subject matter is quite heavy but has tender moments that help you connect deeply with the characters.  The film fails in delivering a delicate balance of exposing the intended audience to the horrors of wartime by making things too clean and tidy.

 Sophie Nélisse in The Book Thief

During pivotal moments in the story, I was taken out of the picture. Scenes like the massive book burning, or Rudy (a winningly ornery performance by Nico Liersch) jumping in the frigid winter waters to salvage Liesel’s journal did not enhance the viewing experience. The book burning felt staged whereas the audience lost the danger of being in cold water and the effects of being soaked in frosty temperatures because of various acting and editing faults.  The pacing of this film was too slow with a superfluous amount of montages to show time lapsing.  Generally I am saddened when a film ends because I want more; in the case of THE BOOK THIEF, you could feel the minutes passing.

Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Sophie Nélisse in The Book Thief

Sophie Nélisse’s interpretation of Liesel felt too sweet and bright-eyed throughout the entire film. A word to describe her skill would be ‘fine’. Thankfully for THE BOOK THIEF, the filmmakers managed to have veteran actors Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson anchoring the picture as Liesel’s foster parents, Hans and Rosa Huberman. Rush’s performance made me love Hans’ character even more. He breathed a perfect blend of tenderness and understanding into his performance without seeming cheesy or hokey. Watson’s portrayal of a strict and stern laundress steadied the sweet and sour relationship between Hans and Rosa. Newcomer Ben Schnetzer tackles the role of Max, a Jewish man hiding in the Huberman’s basement.  The rare moments within the picture that are not montaged or where Max is not fighting illness, Schnetzer has a sympathetic approach to the grateful young man that works for his character.

Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Sophie Nélisse in The Book Thief

Even with Death’s deep, rich and soothing voice walking us through the start and finish of this picture, it was a disappointment to witness a film with such great potential fall flat and feel like a project instead of a passion. THE BOOK THIEF was a ‘nice’ adaptation but lacks anything to make it noteworthy or exceptional. Everything about this film feels safe.  Even though I cried at the close of the picture (mostly because I remember the sensations of sadness I felt at the end of the book), THE BOOK THIEF lacks raw emotion that could make it memorable.


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