Movie Review: The Book Thief

Book Thief movie still

‘The Book Thief’… intriguingly bores the audience to a seemingly pointless ending

Officially a 2013 film which finally made its way here to Malaysia despite already being “certified rotten” on Rotten Tomatoes for a couple of months now and failed to capture any major nomination in the Oscars except for Best Original Score by John Williams, The Book Thief is a film adaptation of Markus Zusak’s award-winning 2005 novel set in Nazi Germany during World War II about a young girl’s life and relationship with her foster parents, the people in her neighbourhood and stranger who looks like the former footballer Robert Pires.

Please excuse the SPOILERS here, I’m pretty sure you won’t mind it, unless you’re still gonna watch it despite the mixed reviews. I really thought I could like the film, considering that I’ve never read the book, it has great actors like Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech) and the cinematography is beautiful despite the low production budget of only US$19 million, with the music by genius film scorer John Williams (Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Harry Porter, and many many more!). However, it’s unfortunate that the film turned out quite uninspiring in overall.

Geoffrey Rush’s performance as the likable and kindhearted (and seemingly creepy at the beginning) Hans Huberman is just as great as Emily Watson’s performance as the tough and strict Rosa Huberman, who actually turns out to be loving and caring towards the end. Both characters are the foster parents of the protagonist of the story, Liesel Meminger played by Sophie Nelisse, whose life is supposed to be, I believe, filled with hardship in the story but the movie portrays her as though as she’s the luckiest person on the Earth. Nelisse is a charming little girl with big eyes, fair skin, nice blonde hair and she can definitely act, destined to be a child actor, but the 13-year-old is perhaps let down by the script or/and direction as her role never once compelled or engaged me to empathise her situation at all.

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The film is over 2 hour and at the end of it, I couldn’t find any point to it at all, or perhaps the film just failed to convey any of it. For most part, the progress of the story is quite slow, which is ideal for the development of the characters, but it is quite boring as well when it leads to nothing much, especially when the setting of this Nazi Germany seem less harsh and brutal than what were portrayed in all the other war dramas. And that’s one of the failures of the film, which is to really convince why the Nazis were cruelly no good. Either that or it’s just overshadowed by how lucky Liesel is compared to the others – she is fostered by a nice couple, she learns how to read, she has a boy-best-friend (Rudy, played by Nico Liersch) who likes her from the very beginning, the wife of the Nazi mayor’s allows her to read her books before she has to secretly come “borrowing” from her library, she’s the only survivor of the bombing in the end, her other boy-best-friend (Max, a Jew character played by Ben Schnetzner) comes back to her after leaving the family to hide from Nazis and she lives peacefully till she’s 90 blessed with a her own family. Where is the real struggle? I didn’t feel it. If anything, it seems as though nothing much really happens in the story.

So what is the purpose of the film? Humanity? I didn’t see it. The final third of the film is so rushed, it feels anti-climatic. I wasn’t moved at all when everyone left her, came back and died in the end. There’s one part where Hans gets enlisted into the Nazi army, got in a bombing incident and then comes back to Liesel as though he never left that long. The story is narrated by “Angel of Death” (Roger Allam) but only the beginning, some parts in the middle and the end, and he leaves the audience saying that Liesel made him wonder how it’s like to live a life… why, ’cause she was so damn lucky in unfortunate times? The made-for-TV-like simple dialogues certainly don’t help at all. Perhaps director Brian Percival should stick to what he does best, which is, indeed, TV series.

Book Thief movie still meme - Geoffrey Rush hugging Sophie Nielisse

What I would’ve named the film: “The Lucky Girl Who Survives the Lighter Version of the Nazi Period”

Censorship in Malaysia: A very safe film with no excuse, I believe, for our beloved film censorship board to cut anything at all.

Second opinion: My girlfriend, however, said that the movie’s “beautiful” and she loved it but believed that the actual story (from the original novel) is more than what the film portrays.

Verdict: Watch it only if you’ll never ever going to read the book and have a lot of patience for its beautiful pointlessness.

Rating: 2.5 / 5

Based on: Markus Zusak’s novel of the same name
Genre: War drama
Running Time: 130 minutes
Director: Brian Percival
Screenplay by: Michael Petroni
Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Sophie Nélisse

Malaysia Release Date: February 13th 2014 (under GSC International Screens only)
Local Distributor: 20th Century Fox Malaysia
Studio: Sunswept Entertainment

View The Book Thief movie stills / pictures

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