Saturday 11 January 2014

Film Review: The Book Thief

An adaptation of Markus Zusak's much-loved novel of the same name, The Book Thief is the story of Liesel Meminger, a young girl living in Nazi Germany who is sent to stay with foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann before the outbreak of World War II.

Starring Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech) and Emily Watson (Anna Karenina), The Book Thief is a touching film with some great performances and gorgeous direction from Downton Abbey's Brian Percival.

At front and centre is Canadian actress, Sophie Nelisse as protagonist Liesel Meminger. In what is only her second acting credit, Nelisse is confident and assured in the lead role; her performance is already garnering plenty of attention for awards.

Likewise, both Rush and Watson are great as the odd-couple of foster parents Liesel is landed with. Rush, the kind-hearted father who is a big softy and Watson the archetypical hard-skinned German mother who is a lot more caring than she shows.

It would also take a very cold-hearted person to dislike the characters of Rudy (Nico Liersch) and Max (Ben Schnetzer), the former of which channels some kind of Milhouse-esque love for Liesel. The cast is possibly the strongest aspect of The Book Thief, with each performance is as strong as the last.

Another highlight is John Williams' fantastic score. When coupled with the stark white surrounds of war-torn Germany and the literal narration of Death himself, the soundtrack is a delightfully haunting and affecting addition.

One criticism I can level at the film is that it seems to hold back on depicting the full extent and horrors of war. When cueing up at the box office, it struck me that a movie set in Nazi Germany would be only a PG, rather than an M or MA15+. Whilst it is a positive thing that the movie will have a wider reach than if it had a restricted rating, I was kind of disappointed that the film pulled some of its punches in regards to depicting the Holocaust or the Nazi party.

This is, after all, a film narrated by Death about a young German girl whose brother dies and mother disappears before befriending a young, intelligent Jew being hunted by those hell bent marching him to a death camp. Some may find that 'watering-down' the subject may make light of the situation, or shy away from hitting too hard.

Some may argue that the film isn't really about the Holocaust, and that is true. Instead, the film should be viewed as a love letter to language and the power of words. When viewed as such, The Book Thief is a lot more enjoyable and easy to understand.

The Verdict: 6/10

The Book Thief is a sensitive and delicate movie with great performances and gorgeous cinematography. It might be a touch too safe in its pursuit of a PG-rating, but on the whole, this movie has many positives going for it.


  1. I'm sitting on the fence with this one. I want to see it for all the positives you mentioned, but it looks a wee bit schmaltzy and safe. Great review :)

    1. Thanks for commenting Ben! :) It is a little watered down, the horror aspects of the War making way for some more character-driven drama. In the end, it gets plus points for not demonizing all of the German people, which was refreshing :)

  2. We want to see the horror or WAR.... sad really isn't it. Not sure about the film now.



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