Narrated by Death and based on the popular 2006 novel of the same name by Markus Zusak, Brian Percival’s The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nelisse), a young orphan who takes a passion for reading and writing after she finds a book at her brother’s graveside. After finding foster parents in Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson), World War II breaks out in Germany and Liesel befriends a young Jew named Max that they are sheltering from the Nazis.
Whilst the concept of a film taking place during World War II narrated by the character of Death sounds like an interesting idea on paper, it comes across as crass and ridiculous on screen. It feels like an unnecessary addition that is hardly used and tacked on as a narrative bookend. It’s a gimmick that distracts from a rather serious (and still sensitive) story and never adds anything of value to an otherwise mediocre film.
The Book Thief is a movie that audiences have seen a thousand times. World War II films about families (and Jews) living in Germany have been seen time and time again and The Book Thief rarely does much to differentiate itself from the pack other than it’s narrator. The film looks good and sounds familiar thanks to a score by John Williams, but the sloppy plotting that includes multiple attempted misdirections feels lazy and dull. Most of the lead performances are solid, including that of newcomer Sophie Nelisse, but she isn’t given much, as the plot is as thin and surface level as you can get.
Most of The Book Thief is entirely mediocre. It’s a middle of the road, World War II drama that is aimed for both young and old. Most of the emotional weight feels completely fabricated and those who won’t be fooled by it will come out hardly feeling anything other than disappointment.
Is The Book Thief opening weekend worthy?
No. The Book Thief had potential to be an interesting take on Nazi Germany with an unique choice of narrator (on paper), but it’s execution is mediocre at best and has one of the most ridiculous endings in recent cinema history. Technically it’s fine, as John Williams’ score is good; however, familiar and the performances are solid but there isn’t much substance. See something else.
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