By Brooke McAfee
Ever since I learned that Markus Zusak’s bestselling novel The Book Thief was to be adapted into a film, I was curious to see how they would bring his words to life on the screen. Many times, the movie version fails to capture the same level of emotion or beauty which made me adore the book. The Book Thief, on the other hand, is a success.
One of the aspects that makes The Book Thief unique is the narrator: Death, voiced by Roger Allam. His voice is heard every now and then throughout the film, and despite such an ominous point of view, the movie is not entirely gloomy. He is compassionate towards humans, and weary from his large role in the turmoil that unfolds into World War II. Yet amid the tragedy, his attention is caught by a young girl named Liesel Meminger, played by Sophie Nélisse, and the focus shifts to her story.
The story is centered around Liesel, who begins a new life with her foster family, the Hubermanns, in a small town in Nazi Germany. Geoffrey Rush plays Hans Hubermann, bringing warmth to the kind-hearted character. Emily Watson is Rosa Hubermann, whose tough, grumpy personality conceal a caring nature. Liesel develops a fascination with words, as her father patiently teaches her how to read, and she steals books: a quiet act of rebellion in an oppressive society where book burnings were a common sight. The drama thickens as Max Vandenburg, played by Ben Schnetzer, enters the scene. He is a Jewish refugee, and the Hubermann’s take the enormous risk of hiding him in their basement. He quickly becomes like an older brother to young Liesel, and encourages her to pursue her passion for writing.
Nélisse gives an outstanding performance, and her expressive eyes clearly portray the intense emotions of the character, from joy to sorrow. Her character is courageous and determined, and her presence manages to raise the hopes of those around her. The movie is full of heartwarming moments, but it is not overly sentimental, and shows how simple, everyday acts of love and kindness can be a source of hope in a dark setting. The relationships between the characters are well developed and moving.
One of the most touching parts of the movie are the scenes with Liesel and her friend Rudy, played by Nico Liersch. Both of them are thrust into the confusion of living in a society where one word or simple act of rebellion against the Nazi regime could have disastrous results. Both of the actors are very young, yet they handle their roles with perception and skill.
John Williams contributes a haunting, gorgeous score to the movie, and the addition of music from such a talented composer strengthens the emotional impact of the film considerably. The cinematography is beautiful, and sets scenes of snowy winters and subdued colors, adding a stark beauty to the film.
The Book Thief is rated PG-13 for violence and intense depiction of thematic material and is 131 minutes long.
For those who are fans of the book, The Book Thief will probably not be a disappointment. It does leave out smaller details from the book that the audience may miss, but it brings the characters and the story to life vividly. It is not very gritty, despite the topics of war and the Holocaust, but it still manages to convey a sense of what it might be like to grow up in such an uncertain time. The Book Thief, which is directed by Brian Percival, is a bittersweet story, and contrasts the innocence of childhood with the cruelty of a harsh society.