Friday, November 8, 2013

Review: The Book Thief

Release date: November 8, 2013
Running time: 131 minutes
Starring: Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Nico Liersch, Barbara Auer
Who to see it with: An avid reader.


In The Book Thief, Liesel (Nélisse) is adopted by two childless parents, Hans (Rush) and Rosa (Watson). The circumstances of her adoption are mysterious (and never fully fleshed out) but she is thrust into the heart of Germany right before World War II. Being uprooted is quite a shock for young Liesel; on top of having to adapt to a new culture, she also can't read German. Her adopted father quickly tries to help her learn, but since the family is struggling to get by, Liesel secretly begins to steal (well borrow) books in order to continue her reading lessons. 

One of the things that I really appreciated about The Book Thief is that the plot takes its time to develop. The movie spends a good deal of time laying the story's groundwork. It slowly introduces you to the characters, the town, and the atmosphere of World War II Germany. In fact, some of the most powerful scenes involve the children being indoctrinated into German propaganda as the threat of war escalates. However, this begins to work against the movie later on. Where you initially appreciate the attention to detail that The Book Thief provides, as the film develops, it begins to feel everything just moves too slowly. You have long story threads with little character development, and the movie has some scenes that seem superfluous and only slow down an already long movie. Luckily, since you spend so much time with them, it's relieving that the characters are so well done. The highlight of the film is Rush, who provides an understanding and funny adopted father for Liesel. The amount of effort he takes to make young Liesel feel at home brings a smile to your face. Additionally, Nélisse is wonderfully believable as Liesel. She has the right amount of childish wonder and naive confidence that makes you want to root for her to overcome everything the movie throws at her. Some of the decisions she makes seem short-sighted, but fit with her headstrong young child character. But, the narrator of the movie is out of place; he's hinted at as being Death but he only pops in here and there. He introduces the movie, has an awkward appearance here and there, and then shows up again at the end. I assume this is the movie trying to tie in parts of the original book, but it just feels out of place here. Altogether, The Book Thief is a well-crafted but overly long story that highlights World War II Germany from a new perspective. 

Rent it.

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