"When life robs you, sometimes you have to rob it back."
Directed by Brian Percival (who is better known for his work in the TV series, Downtown Abbey), The Book Thief, is a film that has divided audiences. Many people seemed to have hated it for being yet another sentimental and tacky melodrama about Nazi Germany, while others found it sweet, inspiring, and touching. I'm not on either side of the spectrum since I didn't hate it, but I didn't think there was anything remarkable about it either. Based on Markus Zusak's novel of the same name and adapted by Michael Petroni there was some strong material to work with but I found the filmmaking lazy at times. First of all I thought we could've done without that terrible narration from Death; every time he spoke it just completely took me out of the film. The other main issue I had with this film is that while everyone is speaking English in Germany, you have the Nazi's speaking in German which made absolutely no sense. Does speaking German make you a Nazi? I thought it just tried to demonize the language. They should have just stuck with one language. Despite these issues I had with the film, I still found it engaging and moving at times. I found it impossible to resist Sophie Nelisse's charm in this film. She is just so sweet and adorable, I enjoyed her performance. Geoffrey Rush gives yet another masterful performance and I'd recommend this movie based on these two performances alone. Rush's character here is very sweet and human, opposed to some of the other roles we've seen him in. Overall I thought this was an enjoyable film despite all the schmaltz and lazy filmmaking moments.
The film opens with a narration from Death (voiced by Roger Allam) telling us all how we can't escape from meeting him and how wars seem to accelerate this process. He then introduces us to Liesel (Sophie Nelisse), a sweet 9 year old girl who is sent to live with a foster family in a German working class neighborhood. She arrives during the Second World War experiencing many horrors first hand. She's introduced to her foster parents: Hans (Geoffrey Rush), a sweet and loving man, and Rosa (Emily Watson) a stern and hard working lady. A friendly boy named Rudy (Nico Liersch) welcomes Liesel to the neighborhood and plays a key role in her adaptation. Despite missing her mother she bonds with Hans who teaches her how to read and write. Liesel quickly falls in love with books and she begins collecting some when she has a chance. When Hans and Rosa bring in a Jewish refugee to hide out in their home, Liesel bonds with him and spends even more time reading stories to him, but as the war continues the risks involved for hiding refugees grows, and Death is lurking around the corner collecting its victims.
The Book Thief is a film that seems to be aimed towards a young target audience since it portrays the war from the perspective of a young girl. It has its interesting moments, but it also is very melodramatic and manipulative at times while clearly aiming for the heart. The message is pretty much straightforward and simplistic; books are good, wars are bad. Despite hitting those wrong notes at times, I still enjoyed this film and found Rush and Nelisse's performance extremely charming. This film could have been made much better because it's based on strong material, but I was disappointed with the end result.