“Here is a small fact. You are going to die”. I wasn’t too thrilled when the Grim Reaper began narrating the story and was glad to hear the voice of death only couple of times and only in very short pieces. This is a story based on the original book by Markus Zusak and adapted for the movie by Michael Petroni. Movie is directed by Brian Percival.
The story unfolds in Germany, during World War II, between 1938 and 1945. Liesel’s poor mother, unable to care for her children, is compelled to give her up for adoption. Liesel’s adoptive father, Hans indulges her and teacher her to read, while her adoptive mother Rosa is a bit distant, at first. Liesel is a bright girl who immediately picks up the linguistic skills and relishes books. As is the case in all autocratic rules, knowledge is often suppressed, with suppression of freedom of expression, and in Hitler’s Germany, books are burned publicly and very few books have survived. Liesel discovers a large home library and eventually finds a way to steal books to read, though she says, she is only borrowing them. Her best friend Rudy promises to keep it a secret but incredulously asks, “people are dying due to lack of food, and you are stealing books”? But in the end, it is the books that bring Liesel hope and helps the young Jewish man, Max survive, who is hidden by her adoptive parents, in their home, at incredible risk to themselves. Liesel reads to Max, when he is fighting off poor health, she tells stories when people are taking refuge from the bombs, in the shelter, and she reaches out for a book, when she seems to have lost everyone and everything, as she emerges from the rubble, created from allied bombs.
The casting in the movie “The Book Thief”, is brilliant. Recently, I heard Alexander Payne, (Director of such films as Nebraska and Dependants) say that 90% of directing is casting. In “The Book Thief”, each character is marvelously played and that includes the roles of Liesel’s adopted parents, beautifully played by Geoffrey Rush as the kind and caring father, and outwardly stern and practical but inwardly soft mother, played by Emily Watson. Ben Schnetzer, in the role of Max (son of a Jewish friend of the family) and Nico Liersch as Rudy, are perfect. But it is Sophie Nelisse, in the role of Liesel, who captured my heart and wowed me, with her acting. There are many opportunities for over-acting and the story and the plot certainly might compel a less experienced actor to do just that. However, Nelisse conveys with very simple gestures, smiles, or sometimes by simply looking away, enormous depth of emotion or seriousness of the situation. I will certainly look for her in other roles.
The movie has made an effort to bring to screen a best-seller, but as is often the case, it has not succeeded entirely in rising to the level of being unforgettable. However, overall, it is an engaging plot, great story, and Nelisse’s acting is supsuperb. I give it a 4 on 1 to 5 scale, with 5 being excellent.