Movie review: “The Book Thief”

Geoffrey Rush and Sophie Nelisse in "The Book Thief."

Geoffrey Rush and Sophie Nelisse in “The Book Thief.”

By Sarah Cooperman/E Pluribus Unum

Just before the deluge of “holiday blockbusters” composed of dumb sequels and kid’s books, comes a trickle of intelligent, thoughtful movies that will no doubt get squashed at the box office.

“The Book Thief” is one such film.

Adapted from the novel by Markus Zusak, it tells the story of a poor girl in Germany given away by her impoverished mother to a foster family. Liesel Meminger (played by Sophie Nelisse) is at first resistant to her new “mama” (Emily Watson) and “papa” (Geoffrey Rush), but comes to love them.

The story takes us from her adoption through the end of World War II and touches with wisdom and insight on the power of words, the hard and kind parts of the human heart, and the possibilities brought by perseverance.

Of course, the sharpest part of the drama comes when her new family takes in and hides a young Jewish man (played by Ben Schnetzer) in the basement of their home. Some critics have argued that this version sugar-coats the Holocaust by not showing its worst outcomes, but since this entire film is based on subtleties, it’s not a fair criticism in my opinion.

Booktheifposter The cast is outstanding, including the young Liesel. But one is especially drawn to Rush, who is always equally adept and accessible as either a hero or a villain and all shades in between.

Brian Percival’s direction and Michael Petroni’s screenplay have created a thoughtful, involving movie mostly true to the book, although the intriguing concept of “Death” as the narrator is downplayed here.

John Williams’ score ably complements this minor classic.

Amidst all the clatter and noise of the season’s slapstick and explosions, “Book Thief” deserves a place in your film-going schedule, just like a cherished slim volume does in your bookcase.

Sarah’s score: A-.

 

“The Book Thief” is rated PG-13 for some violence and thematic content.

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