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All too often a movie turns out to be less than what the trailers lead you to expect, but every now and then there's a movie that surprises you by being more. The Book Thief is one of those movies. Directed by Brian Percival (Downton Abbey, North & South) from a screenplay by Michael Petroni (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys) adapted from the novel of the same name by Marcus Zusak, The Book Thief does not lend itself to easy categorization. On the surface, you'd think from the trailers that it's an Anne Frank sort of film, a young girl's POV about life under the Nazis and about a family hiding a young Jewish man in their house. But it's more than that, a lot more.

You know you're in for something different when the film begins with the narrated line "Here's a small fact: you're going to die." You know you're in for something really different when you realize that the narrator is Death. And it is Death who introduces us to Liesel (marvelously played by Sophie Nélisse) a young German girl riding on a train with her very ill younger brother, being taken to a place she does not know to live with people she's never met. Her brother does not make it, dying before they reach their destination, resulting in the train stopping for an impromptu burial service. As they are departing the grave, Sophie notices a book that fell out of the makeshift shroud her brother had been buried in and on an impulse she steals it, wanting to have something to remember him by. Her first stolen book, but as it turns out, far from her last.

When Liesel reaches her destination, she is taken to meet the couple who are to become her foster parents, Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson) Hubermann. Hans, who makes his living as a house painter and sometime accordionist, is genial and welcoming. Rosa, who takes in laundry for some of the town's more prosperous citizens, is stern and no nonsense. Witnessing Liesel's arrival is a neighbor boy, Rudy Steiner (Nico Liersch) whose curiosity about her quickly evolves into a hopelessly sweet crush, prompting him to ask to walk her to school on her first day. Things however get off to a rocky start when the teacher directs Liesel to write her name on the blackboard and, after awkward hesitation, she can only write a couple of X's, revealing that she can neither read nor write. The other children taunt her, particularly one boy, a bully named Franz (Levin Liam) who follows her into the schoolyard, daring her to read a single word. Liesel finally retaliates by attacking Franz and beating him up in front of the other kids, which earns her definite points in Rudy's estimation.

When he hears of the incident, Hans gently sits down with Liesel and informs her that he's not such a good reader himself and suggests that perhaps they can learn to read together, which prompts Liesel to bring out the book she took from her brother's grave, saying this is what she wants to learn to read, and so the book thief learns to read from the first book she stole. To help her, Hans turns the basement into a kind of makeshift schoolroom, painting the letters of the alphabet on various walls and columns and giving Liesel chalk to write each new word she learns under the letter it starts with.

The cast are excellent, particularly Sophie Nélisse (Monsieur Lazhar) as Liesel, a young girl coming of age under circumstances few children should ever have to experience but all too many did. Veteran actor Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech, Shakespeare in Love) is perfect as Hans Hubermann, the amiably gentle man who becomes Liesel's adoptive father, as is Emily Watson (Anna Karenina, Angela's Ashes) as Rosa, Hans' brusque, hard-nosed wife who becomes Liesel's adoptive mother and who later surprises Liesel by showing that you truly cannot judge a book by its cover. Nico Liersch does an excellent job as Rudy, the boy who becomes Liesel's best friend and who has a sweet but seemingly hopeless crush on her, forever begging her for a kiss. Ben Schnetzer (Happy Town) is quietly effective as Max, the young Jewish man who prompts Liesel's initial forays into story-telling by having her describe to him what goes on in the world outside the Hubermann basement, the world where he does not dare venture. And Roger Allam (V for Vendetta, Inkheart) is outstanding as the unseen but ever felt narrating Death, adding a subtle dimension to events as viewed from his unique perspective.

I have not read the book, but from what I gather the film had to reduce the number of characters somewhat in order to give more focus to the main characters in the more limited amount of time available to a film version. But from what other reviewers who have read the book have said, this does not seem to get in the way in their enjoyment of the film.

In addition to all of the things that make The Book Thief work is John Williams' sweetly haunting score that enhances the lyrical quality of the film, giving it the feel of almost being a fairy tale in spite of the stressful time and circumstances, which is in a way fitting when you think about the nature of many fairy tales that deal with the darker elements of childhood. I personally think this score is the best work Williams has done in years and may end up getting a nod at Oscar time.

Highly recommended.
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This 2013 film was based on the 2005 novel of the same name by Markus Zusak. Liesel is a young girl who is taken in by a foster family in Germany. Her adoptive father teaches her to read, and when the family hides a fleeing Jew named Max, Liesel takes to borrowing/stealing books that she reads to help keep his hopes and spirit alive.

There are some particularly fine performances from the actors who play Liesel (Sophie Nelisse) and her adoptive father (Geoffrey Rush), and their characterization is very good. I also appreciated how the film shows the effect of the war on ordinary German civilians, some of whom were caught up in the patriotism, but others who selflessly worked against the regime to protect life. This offers a fresh perspective on a subject (World War 2) which often sees the same ground covered in films, but fortunately that is not the case here. The film is rated PG-13, but mostly due to the violence that forms the background to the story and is more implied than shown; there's no real blood or gore. Without needing to resorting to graphic violence, the film shows the very real effect of war on lives like Liesel's. It also has a very positive message about self-sacrifice and love for the neighbour.

While there are many good aspects to the film, it still felt mediocre and disappointing. The personification of Death as narrator was jarring and confusing, and his message about the perplexity of human life was unclear; it's an empty message that offers no real hope, despite attempting to tug at heart-strings. Also unclear was the concept of how words have the power of life, and the title "Book Thief" only played a minor role in the film. From what I have learned subsequently, the book that the plot is based on emphasizes this much more strongly, and many people who have come from the book and watched the film found it a very unsatisfying adaptation. There's also several instances of blasphemy that are more typical of a modern audience rather than pre-war Germany.

Overall, perhaps this is a case of: Read the book, don't watch the movie. - GODLY GADFLY (April 2017)
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on June 15, 2014
The lessons of the Third Reich and the Holocaust cannot be overstated. Almost seventy years since the end of World War II witnesses to the atrocities of the Germans are dwindling to a few. The makers of "The Book Thief" have an interesting take on what occurred at that time. Seen through the eyes of a young girl, Liesel (Sophie Nelisse), the film begins prior to the invasion of Poland and ends when hostilities between the superpowers ends. Liesel begins the film as a fragile and frightened illiterate young girl taken from a mother with Communist sympathies to a young woman wizened to the horrors humanity is capable of but assured of her own moral compass. The setting of the film is the picaresque village Liesel goes to live with her adoptive parents, Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson), and it serves as a microcosm of the cancer that infected the Fatherland. Liesel sees with eyes agape everything from a book burning to commemorate Der Fuhrer's birthday to Jews being marched though her town to their ultimate fate in the concentration camps. Nelisse giving a sterling performance anchors the film quite nicely. The supporting cast is uniformly excellent with a special shout out to young Nico Liersch who plays Liesel's friend, Rudy, a boy who emulates the African-American track star Jesse Owens. The beauty of the film is it works on an adult level but should be accessible to older adolescents and teenagers. This film serves as a primer to a time in our history we cannot and should not forget.
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Those who love Markus Zusak's The Book Thief as I do will know that it is an incredibly complex novel - the way the main characters intersect each other's lives and the themes that are developed throughout the novel are deep and layered and would make for a daunting on-screen translation. Yet director Brian Percival manages to make the movie accessible to viewers whilst staying true to the source material. This may not be a blow-by-blow, faithful to each and every word adaptation, but to me at least, it is a true adaptation in portraying the essence of the story. I love the book but I also loved the movie, for similar and different reasons.

The story of The Book Thief begins with the narrator, Death (Roger Allam), providing a sort of overview/introduction. Fortunately, the narrator's voice is not dominant throughout the story as it would (to me) have been a rather distracting voice, but the narrator's presence is felt nevertheless. The protagonist in this film is Liesel (Sophie Nelisse in a ground-breaking performance), a young teenager who comes to live with her foster parents, Hans Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush) and his wife, the acid- tongued Rosa (Emily Watson). The setting at the beginning of the story is Germany in 1938 and the story goes on till the end of WW II. Liesel's mother is a Communist and has been packed off somewhere, presumably a camp, for this is after all Nazi Germany.

The story focuses on Liesel's relationship with her foster parents, her best friend, Rudy (Nico Liersch), and her life-defining friendship with Max (Ben Schnetzer), the young Jewish man hiding in her parents' basement. At the beginning of the story Liesl is unable to read but this slowly changes as first her foster father Hans and later Max help her see beyond the words to the very notions underlying those words. Soon Liesel is reading voraciously and also developing a keen sense of what it means to live in such troubled times, and who by the end of the story, has come to truly understand the power of words and what defines moral courage.

The themes in the book are manifold and I felt these themes were beautifully portrayed in the film. The ideas of friendship, paternal and maternal love, loyalty, and courage, not to mention of course, Death, are credibly-woven together in such a way that these themes flow throughout the film as a whole instead of distinct parts. The cast, especially Nelisse as Liesel, delivers a finely-nuanced performance, every emotion captured by those beautiful, wide, expressive eyes, and Rush as her foster father Hans portrays the very symbol of paternal love and moral courage (especially in the scene where he stands up to a Gestapo officer in defense of a friend).

The film is rated PG-13, but I watched this with my husband and 9-year-old (who has read The Diary of Anne Frank and is somewhat familiar with the history of the Holocaust), and she was absolutely captivated by this film. There are no scenes of extreme or prolonged violence - some scenes of kids fighting, Nazis dragging people off, Nazis burning books, children chanting pro-Nazi slogans (which is disturbing to me but of course given the context of the film, it cannot be helped), Nazis and collaborators destroying Jewish property during Kristallnacht, but nothing like the scenes one sees in movies like Schindler's List. It made for an interesting family discussion after we finished viewing it.

The film's ultimate message is positive and there are certainly many interesting issues that come up for discussion - moral courage being one that I felt was significant. Do we stand by and watch atrocities and injustice perpetrated without voicing against it, and if we do, are we prepared for the repercussions? These and more are satisfactorily addressed in this film, and I count this as one of the more memorable films of 2013.
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on March 18, 2017
The Book Thief is one of my favorite books of all time so I had high hopes but low expectations for the film. I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoy it as much as I do. Good acting, and the changes fron the book weren't all together unacceptable. I'll always love the book more but this didn't disappoint.
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on March 2, 2015
I liked this movie quite a lot. Movies can rarely, if ever, 'get' the whole book; and while this movie is no exception, it does a pretty good job of picking which to leave in. WWII movies are usually a mix of devastating and uplifting. This is no exception, although the movie is quite a bit less devastating than the book---- it is pretty uplifting, ultimately. Some reviewers found 'death's narration annoying. I didn't. style choice, I imagine.
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on March 4, 2017
I was hesitant about watching this movie because the book summary suggested a bit of a slow moving plot - a girl who steals books and shares their stories.

But I think Ben Schentzer is a fabulous actor and he is in so few movies, I figured I would give it a shot.

This movie was a knockout - and I hope the young girl won an award because she just nailed her role.

It COULD be classified as slow moving to those who do not like movies that speak to them; this movie was deep and emotional. It is one of the few I have seen recently that makes you think and feel. and so much of that is due to the superb casting and phenomenal acting.
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on March 15, 2017
I'm one of those folks who read the book first (bought it in paperback and would have given it a 5). Needed to see what the screen did with it. Acting of the principals, sets, cinematography, and direction were superb. However, for a reader of the book, there wasn't enough of the book stealing in the film, and the grim reaper's overlay narrative was more of an unpleasant diversion than called for.
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on April 18, 2015
I consider the book version of "The Book Thief" to be perhaps the best book I've ever read. I didn't see how it could effectively be made into a movie. However, while nothing could compare to the book, the film version is excellent on its own. There are some fine performances, particularly by the young girl who plays the lead and Geoffrey Rush who plays her foster father. The film, unlike so many adapted from books, is true to the original story which in itself is a major plus. I highly recommend the film, but if you haven't read the book...you should.
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on January 13, 2017
Uniquely directed from Death's narration...war consumes lives once lived in innocence...this movie truly depicts how desperate ordinary citizens must have felt under Hitler's demonic regime. I've never written a movie review before, but this movie drove me to attempt a positive review. This is a movie that stirs so many emotions. Leisel overcame so many visits from Death and survived the war. Death could not take her until she had lived a full and rich life, surrounded by her books. I loved this movie!
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