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Film Review – The Book Thief

2 min read

The Book Thief is the coming-of-age story of Leisel Mesinger, a young German teenager who is sent to live with adoptive parents when her communist mother is sent to a concentration camp.  Her brother was supposed to accompany her, but died en route and the illiterate Leisel pilfers a copy of “The Gravedigger’s Handbook” at his burial. Her new adoptive father, Hans Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush), teaches her to read and she just manages to steal a smouldering copy of HG Wells “The Invisible Man” from a Nazi book-burning party in the town square.

Things take a turn for the dramatic when the Hubermanns secretly hide a Jew in their basement, who is the son of man who saved Han’s life in World War I. Feeling they owe him a debt, they hide him away and he and Leisel bond over the love of reading and books. At the same time, Leisel begins a budding romantic relationship with her neighbour Rudy.

The Book Thief still

Based on the international bestseller by Markus Zusak, The Book Thief is a slightly different perspective of the Nazi Germany story, in that it is seen from the eyes of a German family, though Hans Hubermann is not exactly toeing the party line and has several close calls with distrustful party officials.  Geared towards a more youthful audience, the brutality of the Nazi’s and the war is a bit sanitized, and the violence and horrors are clearly restrained, such as the depiction of Kristallnacht.  Even the sets are a bit idyllic and seem somewhat “staged”, or a little bit Disney theme-park ride.  Also, I felt the relationship between Max and Leisel gets a little lost amongst all the other relationships. It seems a little glossed-over and lacks the magnitude it should, compared to all the other relationships portrayed in the movie. But, the relationship between Leisel and Rudy has a naive, sweetness to it.

As always, Geoffrey Rush is fantastic as the kind-hearted Hans Hubermann, as is Emily Watson as her foster mother Rosa. Much more impressive, however is the performance by young newcomer Sophie Nelisse as Leisel. She is simply superb, and gives one of the best performances by a young actor I have seen in a long time. With a beautiful, angelic face a soft soothing voice, she is no doubt the star of the film.  Overall, The Book Thief is a good film for young audiences in that it isn’t going for too much. Though it isn’t perfect, it is touching at times as it focuses on the story of the main characters and delivers some wonderful performances by some of today’s most talented actors.

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