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The Book Thief

TheBookThiefDirected by Brian Percival
Starring Sophie Nelisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson

Brian Percival’s film is a look at life in Germany at the dawn of the Second World War through the eyes of a young girl. Taken from her family and fostered by Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson), young Liesel (Sophie Nelisse) finds solace in books and a newly discovered love of reading. As her country slips further into the grip of fascism, she finds herself stealing books to share with a young Jewish man her foster parents are hiding in the cellar. As she does she becomes more aware of the power that stories have.

Adapting Australian author Markus Zusak’s 2005 bestseller, Percival does a great job of bringing this era to the screen. Having previously directed television period pieces such as North And South and the popular Downton Abbey, Percival brings an eye for detail that richly realises pre-war Germany. The result is a charming and thoughtful tale about the power of words and ideology during the darkest hours.

Sophie Nelisse as the young Liesel is a revelation. Not only can she hold her own in scenes with more experienced actors such as Geoffrey Rush, but she is also capable of bringing the right balance of playfulness and seriousness to the role – it genuinely feels that the character is maturing both emotionally and physically over the course of events.

Rush brings all the charm and warmth you would come to expect of an actor of his talent to the role of the loveable Hans. He is the personification of the older indulgent father figure any child would want to have. However, it is probably Emily Watson who gives one of the best performances in the relatively low key role of Rosa. She imbues the formidable hausfrau with real heart, while still presenting a steely front, especially in the earlier sequences.

Yet for all its charm, The Book Thief seems to punch slightly below its weight. Perhaps it is its attempt to make its narrator the Angel Of Death, a clunky device that never really seems satisfactory on the screen. Perhaps it is just such a charming, gentle, and ultimately uplifting movie that its darker themes don’t feel adequately explored. Maybe that matters little, as we are given a humanising perspective of a society falling into war, its effects on people’s everyday lives and the resistance of those that dislike the direction their government has chosen. Yet it seems to lack a bit of a gut comparison to similarly themed cinema – Grave Of The Fireflies for example,

Richly realised, beautifully shot and competently acted, The Book Thief is charming and entertaining enough, but given its subject matter, somewhat lightweight. A good movie experience at the time, but not really one that will stay with you.


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