Starring: Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson
Director: Brian Percival
Running Time: 131 mins
The Book Thief is an American film about a young girl who is taken in by a family in Nazi Germany on the eve of World War II. With the regime’s grip on people’s everyday lives tightening by the day, she discovers a love for books that will free her from the tyranny of censorship.
I liked this film. It’s an elegant, well-made and inspiring period drama with a solid message, as well as a wonderful performance by the young Sophie Nélisse. That said, it’s hardly the most impactful vision of wartime Germany ever shown on screen, and occasionally comes across as a little too Disneyfied for its own good.
Of course, given that the film focuses on a young girl, I wouldn’t expect it to be either a violent war movie or a deeply political story. In fact, the film’s innocence is its greatest charm, and makes it a really gorgeous watch at times.
Above all, the way that we see young Liesel grow so much from an uneducated young girl into a strong-willed and passionate person is an absolute joy, as she battles against growing censorship to keep her newfound passion for literature alive.
Sophie Nélisse gives a wonderful performance as Liesel, proving able to portray both her character’s wide-eyed innocence as well as an impressive assurance that makes her quiet resistance all the more powerful.
Couple that with a gorgeous musical score by John Williams, fantastic production and costume design, and a real, heartfelt message about standing by your principles, your friends and your passions in even the most difficult of times.
However, while The Book Thief is a wonderful watch throughout, there are times when it all feels just a little too prim and perfect. Its exquisite set design is highly commendable, but Brian Percival does little to really bring you into the world of wartime Germany, relying too heavily on the physical reproduction of the era.
Whereas films like The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas are able to deliver a sobering clash of innocence and fear, The Book Thief does little to really craft that atmosphere of unease as the government begins to oppress its own people to unprecedented levels.
Also, there are parts of the story that just seem a little too fanciful, nicely tied up with ribbons as if this were a Disney movie where nothing bad can really happen.
At moments, the film seems to remember the devastating realities of its time period, but for the most part, it’s a surprisingly lightweight watch.
Overall, I enjoyed The Book Thief, with its gorgeous production, wonderful message and excellent lead performance. However, it’s almost too pleasant for its own good, proving a rather fanciful view of Germany in its darkest period, so that’s why I’m giving this film a 7.4.