Dir. Brian Percival
Reviewed by Matt 'haunted by humans' Adcock
Newspaper version of this review: Hemel Gazette
“One small fact: you are going to die. Despite every effort, no one lives forever. Sorry to be such a spoiler. My advice is when the time comes, don't panic. It doesn't seem to help.”
Those are the opening words of Death (yes as in The Grim Reaper) as it is he that narrates the unhappy tale of The Book Thief in this big screen adaptation of the heartbreaking and much loved novel by Markus Zusak.
Meet poor young Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nélisse), she is being taken by her mother to be handed over to adoptive parents due to the crackdown on communists by Hitler’s rising regime, but tragedy strikes when her younger brother dies on the way. It is at his pauper’s burial that Liesel finds a book that has been dropped by his graveside called ‘The Gravediggers Handbook’. This cheery tome is the book that she learns to read with when her foster parents Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson) Hubermann find out that she is illiterate.
"Those Nazis love a good bonfire..."
Yes this is a story of death, fear and loss at one of humanity’s darkest hours – seen through the lens of one girl’s experiences. The novel is a gripping exposition of the hopeless situation that somehow stirs the emotions and resonates in a timeless fashion. Alas the movie is a hollow shell that lacks the heart of the book, and leaves you wondering why a film so long and slowly paced still feels rushed and lacking in any lasting emotional impact.
Of Liesel’s small German town inhabitants, her only friends are schoolmate / neighbour Rudy Steiner (Nico Liersch) who wants to be Jesse Owens the runner and Max Vandenburg (Ben Schnetzer) a Jew who the Hubermanns shelter (Max is the son of the man who saved Hans' life in the First World War).
"your books are mine!"
Much of the film is the ‘will he / won’t he survive’ dilemma of Max who puts the Hubermanns in danger and then gets ill from having to stay in the damp cellar below the house. I wanted to care more than I did – I really loved the book – but somehow the scenes of Liesel trying to help Max recover by reading to him just didn’t capture any of the poignancy that Zusak rustled up.
The Book Thief deserved to be a better movie than this – the message that reading can save you though should be taken to heart and acted upon – read the novel instead!
Original Book Thief concept
Out of a potential 5 you have to go with a Darkmatters:
(2.5 - Courage beyond words but not beyond mild boredom)
Awesomeness öö – Nélisse is likeable, everybody else goes through the motions
Laughs ö – Nazis are not for ze funnies
Horror öö – slightly grim
Babes ö – not that kind of film and Emily Watson has a face like perma-thunder
Spiritual Enlightenment öö - is there redemption in words?
Recommended Hashtag: #ReadTheBook
"Nélisse - could be a star in the making"