Film review: The Book Thief (6 out of 10)

It’s always a bit of a minefield adapting a best-selling book into a film and there have been some notable successes (Hunger Games, Life of Pi, Cloud Atlas, and even Twilight financially).

Tuesday, 4th March 2014, 10:38 am
The Book Thief
The Book Thief

However, I fear this version of Markus Zusak’s 2005 popular novel may not go down so well with its avid fans.

It’s set mostly in a small German town just before and during the second world war and we have the cast mainly talking in English with a German accent, although punctuating sentences with a ‘Nein’ or ‘Ja’ (seemingly just to prove where we are).

However, we also have an occasional speech in German with subtitles to confuse things.

The Book Thief

The book has Death as the narrator and although I’ve yet to read the novel I’m told the author has used this ‘character’ as a strong and vital addition to the book.

In the film the narration does little to move the plot along or add anything.

This quirky part of the book, therefore, is made pointless.

Plus, the whole movie is a massive 131 minutes long.

Having said all this, the acting is superb.

The plot sees young Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nélisse) on her way to new foster parents as her real mother is being taken away as many were for being a communist.

Hitler and his party have taken a firm grip on the country and all subversives are being tracked down, along with the symbolic burning of ‘unsuitable’ books.

Geoffrey Rush plays kindly Hans Hubermann and Emily Watson his seemingly tough wife Rosa who take in Liesel.

It soon becomes apparent that Liesel can’t read and so Hans teaches her but at school her fellow pupils bully her.

However, young neighbour Rudy Steiner (Nico Liersch) takes her under his wing.

All four provide outstanding performances and expect much more from young Sophie who stands up well in the impressive company of Rush and Watson.

The Hubermann’s end up hiding a young Jewish man Max Vandenburg (Ben Schnetzer) and there is a great rapport between his character and Liesel who reads to him from a selection of books she has ‘borrowed’.

But there’s little tension as Max is kept a secret and in fact the audience is more concerned whether Liesel will be caught taking books.

Added to the plus side, though, is the music of John Williams which, as ever, complements the film superbly.

But there are just too many annoying aspects that get in the way.

For example, after a bombing raid by the Allies, bodies taken from mangled buildings are lined up on the street but they just look like they are sleeping - no blood and no obvious clue as to how they died.

So we end up with a well-acted, well-meaning adaptation that fails to deliver.

Film details: The Book Thief (12A) 131mins

Director: Brian Percival

Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Sophie Nélisse, Ben Schnetzer

Screening courtesy of Cineworld Crawley