The Book Thief: Movie Review

Dec 2, 2013 | 2013 Articles, Movies, Terrance V. Mc Arthur

by Terrance Mc Arthur

Special coupon for Dinuba Platinum Theatre at the end of this review.

Even though The Book Thief takes place in Nazi Germany, this isn’t really a war film. There are Allied bombing raids, and characters die, but there isn’t a lot of action for Spandex-superhero fans. It’s an intimate movie about people who are heroes in small ways, based on Markus Zusak’s popular YA book.

After the death of her brother and being taken away from her mother for political reasons, Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) is placed in the home of Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson). Though initially illiterate, Liesel begins to take books—from gravediggers, Nazi bonfires, and the wife (Barbara Auer) of the mayor.

Nélisse resembles a post-E.T. Drew Barrymore, and her playfulness and pensiveness ring true. Rush is not burdened by the make-up and the Johnny Depp he endured in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and delivers a tenderly understated performance. Watson is taller and thinner than the book’s Rosa, and the nastiness has been tamed, creating a kinder, gentler foster mother who still delivers an emotional impact. Part of the wonder of Zusak’s book was the discover of humanity under Rosa’s foul-mouthed, ill-tempered surface. As Rudy, the next-door boy with a Jesse Owens fixation, Nico Liersch is very blond. Ben Schnetzer as a wannabe Anne Frank brings hope and sunshine into a dark cellar.

A major problem in the adaptation to the screen is the language. Some of the crudeness of speech in the novel has been excised, but that isn’t the problem. This American-made film takes place in Germany. Most of the time, everybody speaks English (Some sections in German are subtitled), and the shop signs are in German, but people write in books and on walls in English. Would American audiences have been able to deal with German spelling? We’ll never know.
Director Brian Percival (six episodes of Downton Abbey) manages to fuse British respect with American interests. John Williams composed his first non-Spielberg score in ages, reminding us that he does have ability to create emotional underpinnings that don’t require a stirring march or a threatening tuba.

There are some sections that quicken the pulse (a ten-year-old’s recreation of the Berlin Olympiad), that horrify (a school choral performance), and that touch the heart (winter fun in a terribly dangerous situation). It is simultaneously too slow and too intense for small children, but it could motivate library visits for more information on the era, and be the springboard for some interesting discussions.

Check out KRL’s review of the book, The Book Thief.

The Book Thief is not currently playing at Dinuba Platinum Theatres 6, but several other great movies are. Showtimes can be found on their website. Platinum Theaters Dinuba 6 now proudly presents digital quality films in 2-D and 3-D with 5.1 Dolby digital surround sound to maximize your movie experience.

Print this coupon and enjoy a special discount for Kings River Life readers only!

Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a California-born, Valley-raised librarian/entertainer/writer. He lives in Sanger, four blocks from the library, with his wife, his daughter, and a spinster cat.


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