Synopsis: A young girl (Sophie Nelisse) living with foster parents (Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson) in Nazi Germany begins collecting forbidden books and sharing them with the Jewish refugee hiding in her home.
Release Date: November 8, 2013 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Set in Germany at the onset of World War II, The Book Thief is the story of Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nelisse from Monsieur Lazhar), a young girl who is shipped off to a foster home. Her adoptive mother, Rosa (War Horse‘s Emily Watson), seems only to be interested in the stipend that comes with the child, but the father, Hans (Geoffrey Rush from Shine), genuinely loves and cares for the little girl. One night, Hans finds Liesel sleeping with a copy of “The Grave Digger’s Handbook” that she stole from the man who buried her younger brother after her brother’s funeral, and Hans uses it to teach Liesel how to read. When Hitler’s Nazi party begins rounding people up and sending them to concentration camps, a young Jewish refugee named Max (Ben Schnetzer from “Happy Town”) arrives on the family’s doorstep in the middle of the night, and they hide the boy in the basement. Liesel begins to “borrow” more books for her, Max, and Hans to read in the basement to pass the time. However, the war continues to take its toll on the town. First, the neighbors are drafted into military service. Then Hans is called on for duty. Even Liesel’s best friend, a small but athletic boy named Rudy (Nico Liersch from Kokowaah 2), is inducted into the Hitler Youth. The neighborhood is full of constant reminders of the war, not the least of which is hidden in Liesel’s family’s basement. Liesel is able to use the books and her love of the written word to help her and the people close to her escape the trials and tribulations of everyday life during wartime.
Based on the bestselling novel by Markus Zusak, The Book Thief was adapted for the screen by Michael Petroni (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader). Like any movie script that is made from a favorite book, Petroni’s screenplay will most likely fall under scrutiny from hardcore fans, but the film is a fairly faithful adaptation. Even clocking in at a little over two hours, some of the 600 page novel had to be excised. Despite its length, the film is very streamlined, even to the point where it doesn’t actually feel like it’s over two hours long. And it’s shockingly benign for a story that is narrated by Death himself.
Director Brian Percival (“Downton Abbey”) makes The Book Thief surprisingly light for what is, at its root, a Holocaust movie. The main way that he and Petroni accomplish this is by having the war be more of a backdrop than a plot point; the film is not about World War II, but the people affected by it, especially the children. Aside from a handful of scenes of atrocity that remind the viewer that, yes, the film is set in Nazi Germany, the film is pretty tame. It’s still very compelling as a film, just not a dark one. It almost seems like a Disney film about World War II; all that’s missing is the song and dance. It’s not a tearjerker, although it does have its sad moments. It’s also not overly sentimental, despite a few sappy areas. In the end, The Book Thief is very safe. It’s a very different kind of war movie; instead of being grim and heavy, it is uplifting and bright…it’s hopeful, not hopeless.
The performances of the actors in The Book Thief are good across the board. Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson are both great as the foster parents; Watson’s cranky-yet-caring mother playing against Rush’s gentle and loving father. Ben Schnetzer plays Max well, too, and it’s unfortunate that the character is not a bigger role in the film. Nico Liersch’s Rudy is the consummate sidekick, and Liersch does a great job at being the best friend with a crush stuck in the Friendzone. The rest of the supporting cast in The Book Thief does exactly what it’s supposed to do – it supports.
Of course, the film belongs to Sophie Nelisse. Her Liesel carries the film, and the young actress displays talent well beyond her thirteen years. She is not a typical child actress, and she holds her own while onscreen with the older and more experienced cast members. Nelisse and Rush have a special kind of chemistry together and their back and forth interplay makes it very easy to believe that Hans and Liesel are father and daughter, even if only through adoption. Their interactions are a big part of what keeps the film from getting too heavy; they can walk the line between whimsy and wartime, convincing the viewer that there is love in a time of chaos…and that is what The Book Thief is all about.
The music for The Book Thief was provided by none other than the iconic John Williams, composer of such classic soundtracks as Jaws, Star Wars, and Schindler’s List. Mostly piano and strings pieces, his score for The Book Thief may not be his most grandiose, but it doesn’t have to be; neither Williams nor his score needs a full orchestra to make their point. Even in its stripped-down form, the music still sounds great. The simple melodies are haunting and beautiful, sad yet uplifting. It’s a far cry from some of Williams more ambitious work, but it’s exactly the type of inspired score that the film requires. The sparse music is a testament to the talent and versatility of John Williams, and his score is an integral and important part of The Book Thief.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Brian Percival
- Screenwriter(s): Markus ZusakMichael Petroni
- Cast: Geoffrey Rush (Hans Hubermann)Emily Watson (Rosa Hubermann)Sophie Nelisse (Liesel Meminger) Sandra Nedeleff (Sarah)Matthew Matschke (Wolfgang Edel)
- Cinematographer: Florian Ballhaus
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: John Williams
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA