With The Book Thief, Markus Zusak created an incredible novel that was able to appeal to audiences of all ages, and he made something that was enlightening, haunting, hopeful, and sad, all mixed into one great novel. He told us the story of Liesel, a young German girl who is adopted into a family, and learns how to read, primarily by stealing books, during the early days of the rise of the Nazi party and the outbreak of war. Her family, with their rough exteriors, secretly hide a Jewish man named Max in their basement, with whom Liesel forms an incredible bond. The most interesting part of the novel comes from the narration of Death, as he comes to take the souls of the people in the German town, and he discusses his views on humanity.
I was excited when the film version was coming out, because the trailer looked very impressive. It seemed to capture the spirit of the novel. The actual film itself, however, did not live up to expectations. This is not to say that this is a poor film, because it definitely is not, but it felt that there was something missing. A little bit of the soul of the novel was gone. Granted, this is incredibly difficult to do when transitioning from the page to the screen, and there was a little bit of it missing in the adaptation of The Book Thief.
I don’t want to just sound super pretentious in saying that the book was so much better than the film, but really, it was.
As for the movie, it is wonderfully shot, and the scenes of the village are great, and all of the cinematography is superb. The major highlights of the film for me were the central performances of Geoffrey Rush as Hans, and the young Sophie Nelisse as LIesel.
The young actress is completely adorable, with her bright eyes and ringletted hair. She was able to do quite well with the German accent, and would sprinkle in the occasional German word here and there, to provide the film with some authenticity, I suppose. She was fantastic, and played the role of Liesel with the kind of child-like wonderment we would have expected from the novel.
The narration by Death is often clumsy, and doesn’t always seem to fit as well as it could, until the end of the film, where it really falls into step, and makes a lot more sense for the viewers who perhaps did not read the novel. The Book Thief is tragic in many ways, and Death takes his place among this tragedy. It is tragic, but it is also hopeful, and I found that the montage at the end of the film captured the soul of Liesel for the first time in the film. Unfortunately, this was the end of the film, and the rest just sort of drives forward.
Nelisse does a great job of convincing us of the importance of the people in her life. Her relationships are what make this novel and film great, and she sells it to us as best she can. The relationship between her and her adoptive father (Rush), gives the movie its main passion, and many of its enduring heartfelt moments.
I would recommend watching The Book Thief, whether you have read the novel or not. It is a very solid movie. It is not spectacular, but it is above average.