This is a film about a child's survival during the Holocaust. To say this film is dated is to deny the suffering of all during WWII. Based on the bestselling novel by Marcus Zusak, it was filmed in Berlin and has an authentic amber glow of old Germany. The details of the home, which houses a Jew, become a character as much as Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson), who are the adoptive parents of young Liesel (Sophie Nelisse). The value of the written word is worshiped in The Book Thief. By reciting a memorized story from a book, Liesel is able to help her neighbors in their small town survive an air raid in an underground shelter with less terror.
Hans teaches Liesel to read and to write and for a moment I thought, "Oh, no, don't tell me they've cast Geoffrey Rush because of his role in The King's Speech and have him, again, as a teacher!" But quickly he emerges as a thoughtful, caring adoptive parent who plays an accordion. One day a man comes to the door and asks Hans, "Are you the man with the accordion?" This is a code to allow Max (Ben Schnetzer) who is a Jew running from the Gestapo into the home of Rosa and Hans. As Max is hidden in their cellar, he forms a friendship with Liesel based on the written word. Max reads to Liesel and Liesel reads to Max. The walls of the basement are chalked in letters of the alphabet with words added under each letter when Liesel learns a new word. At a Gestapo book burning, Liesel waits until the enormous bonfire of books is reduced to embers and grabs one of the last smoldering books. She is spotted by the loving, yes loving, wife of a Gestapo officer for whom Rosa does laundry. One day while delivering the laundry to this woman, Liesel is invited into the mansion and shown the library by the General's wife who tells Liesel to visit whenever she wants to read a new book. But Liesel can only read the book in the mansion's library. When the General discovers Liesel is reading in his home and, indeed, he was the General who was in charge of the book burning, he forbids her to return. Now Liesel sneaks in the library window of the mansion and begins the habit of 'borrowing' books. She takes these to Max where they read these books aloud.
Michael Petroni has written a screenplay that moves briskly and is narrated by Roger Allam, a character called Death. Brian Perivale's direction moves at a fast pace.
When Hans is drafted by the Gestapo, Liesel's world centers around Max and her childhood chum, Rudy, (Nico Liersch) who gives a slam-bang performance as does Liesel. Geoffrey Rush does not miss a beat and Emily Watson is convincing as a tortured adoptive Mom who is torn between caring for a Jew hidden in her basement and caring for her family's well being if the Jew is discovered.
Liesel morns the loss of her real parents, but is transformed into a young, inquisitive woman by Rosa, Hans and Max who have taught her the importance of the written word.
How this film ends is for you to find out. But if you, too, value the written word, you may thoroughly enjoy The Book Thief.
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