Even with changes, the Book Thief is fantastic.
"One small fact: You are going to die. Despite every effort, you're not going to live forever."
Thus begins the Book Thief, directed by Brian Percival and based on Marcus Zuzak's novel. It is hauntingly beautiful and although it differs from the original, it still is a great story.
The Book Thief begins in pre-World War II Germany, while Hitler is still gaining power. Young Liesel Meminger's (Sophie Nélisse) communist mother (Heike Makatsch) is forced to give her and her younger brother (Julian Lehmann) up to a foster family. Her brother dies on the train, so her mother and her have a small, impromptu funeral for him on the side of the train tracks and, as she is leaving, Liesel finds a book that has fallen in the snow and takes it with her. Liesel is forced to cope with the pain of being abandoned, the loss of her brother and new friend Rudy Steiner (Nico Liersch). On top of all that, she must deal with a new family; with a tough, sharp-tongued Mama Rosa Huberman (Emily Watson) and a soft, loving Papa Hans Huberman (Geoffrey Rush). After a day at school shows she can neither read nor write, her Papa begins to teach her and soon she is reading everything she can get her hands on, legally or otherwise. When World War II breaks out officially, the Hubermans begin to hide a German jew in their basement, Max Vandenburg (Ben Schnetzer) and him and Liesel develop a close relationship. As the war continues to unfold, Liesel must deal with the unforeseen challenges of war and the abandonment, whether intentional or not, of by those she loves.
The Book Thief novel has a strong base of dedicated fans, so when the movie was announced, they were more than a little apprehensive about how true to the book the movie could be. Admittedly, Michael Petroni who adapted the model, took many creative liberties, cutting out some memorable scenes and shortening the time lapses. The most noticeable change was the lack of Death's strong narrative voice. The narrative was there, but only occasionally and without as much strong characterization and witty commentary. Roger Allum, who voices Death, fails to capture the essence his polite and conversational tone.
In the book, Liesel is more of a tough, fearless tom-boy who is not afraid to break some rules. The movie hints at these parts of her character with some of her book-thefts, but doesn't go into as much detail. There are other changes: in sequence, in small details, in some events, but there is enough continuity with those changes to make it a great movie. Anyway, the Book Thief is very long and spans a substantial amount of Liesel's life, around four or five years, so adapting it into a two-hour movie would require some parts to be cut out.
The cinematography is beautiful. Clever shots and gorgeous montages help communicate the story, which is important because there is little dialogue. Most of the casting was extremely well-done. Liersch as Rudy Steiner was perfect to the letter, with his adorable boyish charms, hair the color of lemons and teasing thrown about in only the way an 11-year-ld boy in love can do. Rush also did an incredible job of capturing Hans Huberman's deep character, his sense of morals and his love for Liesel. Nélisse as Liesel, with her big eyes and haunted look, was ideal for Liesel and she splendidly captured the wide range of Liesel's emotions.
Overall, The Book Thief is a movie worth seeing, if you've read the book or not. Bring a box of tissues, because the culmination of this well-crafted story and very real character makes for a moving ending.
The Book Thief is rated PG-13, and is now playing in theatres everywhere. 131 minutes.
Sarah Trunk. Hello! I'm Sarah, and I'm one of the managing editors for SCO this year. I like writing about things and reading mystery novels. Enjoy our site! More »