Film Review: The Book Thief

American-German war drama flick based on Markus Zusak’s critically acclaimed novel ‘The Book Thief’, this film is engaging, enchanting and fundamentally heart-warming.

Directed by Brian Percival, ‘The Book Thief’ is about a young girl called Liesel (Sophie Nelisse) living with her adoptive German family during the Second World War. It is set within an attractive picture postcard, snow-covered town ironically juxtaposed with the hardships of the Nazi regime.

The 131 minute movie has already racked in over $68 million at the box office, and it’s not surprising given the spectacular performances showcased from Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson as Liesel’s adoptive winking-addict father and cranky but caring mother. Brave Liesel is taught to read by her doting foster father, which causes her to ‘borrow’ books to learn more. She also shares these books with a Jewish refugee (Ben Schnetzer) that her parents are hiding and taking care of. But the niggling issue remains of what happens to Liesel’s birth mother after she gave Liesel up for adoption and why exactly she had to be put up for adoption in the first place. Neither of these issues are answered or addressed for the entirety of the film.

However, the haunting musical score by Oscar-nominated composer John Williams really brings the captivating cinematography to life. The emotion it creates is unbelievable, but expected from the composer of scores for ‘Star Wars’, ‘E.T.’ and ‘Jaws’.

‘The Book Thief’ is one of those rare films that makes you pinpoint human strength, love and family. The driving force behind the flick is the narration courtesy of Death, portrayed by ‘Game of Thrones’ actor Roger Allam. His gripping narration provides a childlike element to the story and enhances the characters’ personalities, actions and emotions.

The majority of mainstream reviews for the movie have been startlingly negative, but to me ‘The Book Thief’ is a human-interest film that tugs on your heartstrings and forces you to appreciate what you have. To my astonishment the cinema was practically private when I saw the film, but this actually made the entire experience more intimate and hard-hitting. It truly is a beautiful depiction of the brutality that Jews and non-Jews alike received from the Nazis.

Coming across as a Christmas card or vintage chocolate box, the movie’s setting is ironically lovely, only making it more ferocious and unnerving when the community is destroyed in more ways than one. ‘The Book Thief’ wonderfully encapsulates the hardships faced by millions in 1930s Germany and during World War Two. One stand-out scene sees Liesel and her best friend Rudy walk into a lush forest with a steady, twinkling lake and scream “I hate Hitler” at the top of their lungs together. It’s also striking to watch young children threatening to report one another to the Nazis, as well as how quickly Hitler’s ideals are enforced into practice.

Sentimentality and courage run hand in hand throughout the film and bring the unsettling plot to a sticky end. ‘The Book Thief’ is as thought-provoking and touching as ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ through its dark scenes as well as optimism. Screenwriter Michael Petroni lifts the words off the page and has adapted a tough-minded children’s book into a visually captivating masterpiece that hits you right between the eyes.

‘The Book Thief’ honours accuracy in a hypnotic, horrific and honest manner. This film deserves all the success of the book because if there was ever a dazzling, engrossing, must-see film, you’ve found it!


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