Written by / 12/08/2013 / No comments / , , , , ,

THE BOOK THIEF

year: 2013 cast: Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Ben Schnetzer, Nico Liersch rating: ***
There have been films narrated by the deceased. AMERICAN BEAUTY first comes to mind, and some others – but to mention these by name would be a spoiler… And a few (including an obscure Western titled FIVE BLOODY GRAVES) are narrated by Death himself. And yet, in this particular case, he doesn’t sound formidable, sinister or cold. In fact, a very gentle-voiced Grim Reaper's quite taken and moved by the main character…

Well he’s onto something because Liesel, played by Sophie Nélisse, is the best thing about THE BOOK THIEF, centering on a young girl who, adopted by a common family living in a German ghetto during the throes of Nazi rule… and then the beginning stages of World War II… steals books that aren’t allowed by Hitler... Basically, anything the Furor didn’t write.

Some of the more heartfelt scenes involve Liesel with her adaptive father, Hans. Geoffrey Rush is good as always, his kindhearted character liken to the LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL dad, wielding a creative method to alter the harsh reality of Hitler's takeover, making his child feel comfortable, if oblivious, to the approaching storm. In this case, allowing Liesel to read voraciously and then to, after memorizing important words, write on the basement wall where the family's hiding a young Jewish man named Max.
Sophie Nélisse is Liesel in THE BOOK THIEF
Liesel and Max bond together through literature – mostly stuff remembered of what she’s allowed to read at a society woman’s home. More lighthearted scenes, where the friends poke fun at Hitler, seem more catered to the audience than a genuine, personal connection… Their best moments are through the stories. And the only worthy suspense relies on if and when Max will be caught by authorities, which would put the entire family in jeopardy.

On the peripheral, and taking us into the daylight, is Liesel’s friendship with a young boy her age, blond and blue-eyed, typical of the German youth of that era. With a Fascist-loving bully dogging their heals, much of the scenes play off like an AFTERSCHOOL SPECIAL or perhaps a wartime version of MY GIRL.

The more interesting parts occur indoors, relating to her parents, Hans and Rosa. As the wife, Emily Watson has the most noticeable character arc, going from a henpecking, irritated wife to a woman with passion and strength. The couple are polar opposites yet seem like they’ve been together, forever, through thick and thin. Unfortunately, the film never centers long enough of each of Liesel’s eclectic friendships to make them matter as a whole. It’s almost like watching a collection of vignettes as opposed to a thoroughly structured story. But the emotional range of the lovely and talented Sophie Nélisse is what really matters. Like Death himself, you’ll be very impressed.
Sophie Nélisse is Liesel in THE BOOK THIEF
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