Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Book Thief

Year: 2014
Director: Brian Percival
Cast: Sophie Nelisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Nico Liersch, Ben Schnetzer, Barbara Auer

Plot: In Germany during WW2, Liesel Meminger is sent for adoption by her mother to an elderly couple. The story traces her life during this era as she develops her passion for reading and writing with help from her foster father and the Jewish man he hides in the basement.

Review: There have been many films on the horrors of World War II, a lot of them focusing on the war itself, while some shed light on the people who suffer during that period. The Book Thief falls in the latter category, and thankfully it isn't as bleak as say, The Pianist.

But don't be fooled, just because this film features a young girl as the lead character, doesn't mean it downplays the horrors of that time. Nazism isn't something we're allowed to take lightly, and The Book Thief does feature scenes where people become victims of Hitler's movement, so the audience is constantly aware of what it was like back then. But what I like about this film is that despite all of that, it manages to keep itself hopeful and positive.

The story begins in 1938, as narrated by Death of all things, when young Liesel Meminger is sent for adoption by her mother to an elderly couple. They're poor but they agree to look after Liesel, even though they were expecting her brother as well, who died on the way. Liesel is at first quiet and scared with her new surroundings, with only a book she picked up at her brother's funeral as company (despite her being unable to read or write). But slowly, thanks to her kind foster father and the boy next door, who becomes her best friend, she becomes a braver and stronger person, and eventually learns how to read. Later she makes another friend, a young Jewish man named Max, whom Liesel's foster parents give refuge to. Max teaches her how to imagine, describe and write, and gives her encouragement to survive during those harsh times.

Director Brain Percival deserves credit for making a solid film that scores on nearly every level, from storytelling to production design, music and casting. The colourful script is excellent, giving great balance to both drama and comedy and allowing each character to shine at the right moments, especially Liesel, who carries the weight of the film.

Newcomer Sophie Nelisse is awesome as Liesel, being capable of hitting all the right notes and showing the right emotions at the right moments. She's only a 12 year old Canadian actress with only a handful of acting credits, but she's so good. I foresee a great future for her. Geoffrey Rush is perfect as the kind and gentle Hans, Liesel's foster father, who protects, encourages and entertains Liesel with his accordion. Emily Watson plays Rosa, Liesel's cranky foster mother, who comes off as being constantly difficult and fierce, but actually has a good heart. She is solid in her role too. Rounding up the cast are Nico Liersch as Rudy, Liesel's best friend, Ben Schnetzer as Max, the Jewish youth who hides in the basement and Barbara Auer as the mayor's wife, who has a large collection of books from which Liesel "borrows" secretly (hence being a book thief).

If the film has any weaknesses, it would be the way it ended. Not that it was a big issue, just that instead of a simpler ending, Percival let Death narrate a bit too much in its final moments. And I have to admit, it was rather strange having the narration, as I felt the film would have worked even without it.

But the film is a very solid piece on the World War II era, and a great choice for people who love stories about hope in the darkest of times. Recommended. (4/5)  

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