Book Thief, The (2013)

Director:  Brian Percival
Cast:  Sophie NélisseGeoffrey RushEmily Watson
Plot:  While subjected to the horrors of World War II Germany, young Liesel finds solace by stealing books and sharing them with others. Under the stairs in her home, a Jewish refugee is being sheltered by her adoptive parents.

Genre:  Drama / War
Awards:  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Original Score.
Runtime:  131min
Rating:  PG for some violence and intense depiction of thematic material.

(Guest Review by Eunice Lim)
The battle between books and their film adaptations have rarely seen the latter emerging triumphant.  Unfortunately for Brian Percival’s The Book Thief, the 2005 novel by Markus Zusak stayed on The New York Times Best Seller list for more than 4 years, leaving the film adaptation with even larger shoes to fill.

Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nélisse) arrives at Himmel Street in Germany to her new foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson).  Caught within the unrest of World War II and trying to make sense of her new environment, Liesel begins to steal books as a form of comfort.  She also befriends a cheerful boy named Rudy Steiner (Nico Liersch).  But when a Jew refugee comes to live in the Hubermann basement, Liesel finds herself tasked with keeping a dangerous secret.

Like the novel, The Book Thief is told from the perspective of Death himself, who shadows Liesel due to an inexplicable interest. Fans of the book would be disappointed to know that Death has been reduced to a narration rather than a personality in the film.  While Death is eloquent and profound in the novel, his infrequent narrations in the film are awkward and gimmicky.

The dialogues between the other characters are witty and amusing, especially when the characters joke about Hitler’s control over them in an attempt to find amusement in their predicament.  The relationships between the characters develop beautifully, demonstrating many heartwarming scenes of love and compassion in a time of fear and uncertainty.

For a film that lasts more than two hours, the ending seems abrupt and rushed and while it attempts to end on an emotional note like other war-dramas, it fails to do so.

Having mainly worked on telemovies and dramas like Downtown Abbey, Brian Percival’s The Book Thief would make a lovely period drama for the small screen. But on the big screen, it is far too long in duration to captivate attention till the end.

While The Book Thief makes a decent film with a memorable soundtrack by John Williams and an award-winning cast, it lacks the ingenuity and perceptiveness of the novel it is based on, becoming just another forgettable war-drama.

Rating: 2 stars

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