This one really gets to you. The characters are lovable (even the strict ones), the story is incredibly touching, and the history is moving. It was a tear-jerker but it was also smile-inducing. The Book Thief teaches you the value of words in a time when everyone was afraid to speak.
Young Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) is ‘the book thief’, but if you ask her she’ll swear she only borrows them. Her first book, The Gravedigger’s Handbook, comes to her just after her brother’s funeral. She carries it with her to her new foster home, not fully understanding why her mother must leave her there. As it is 1938 Nazi Germany, however, we as viewers have our suspicions. Leisel’s new mother, Rosa (Emily Watson), is harder than a brick wall, while her new father, Hans (Geoffrey Rush), is goofy and gentle. Just as Liesel begins to settle in, a young man arrives at the door seeking shelter. Max (Ben Schnetzer) is Jewish, and Hans agrees to hide him from the Nazis. Leisel must now go about her everyday life while harbouring a Jew in her basement.
So what does this have to do with books? Leisel arrives at her new home completely illiterate. Hans makes it his mission to teach her to read using The Gravedigger’s Handbook, the only book in the house, and thus begins Leisel’s addiction to literature. Books mesmerize her. Unfortunately, Leisel lives in a world where reading is considered dangerous and public book burnings are festival events. Now, here is a girl who values books like bricks of gold, and she is forced to join her enemies in setting them on fire. The pages fluttering feebly, the bindings smouldering, burnt scraps filling the streets… The Book Thief is filled with meaningful moments like this one, making you sit back in awe at the world they live in.
The camera may follow Leisel, but the story is told by a very unique narrator: Death. This was one of the best parts of Markus Zusak’s book (yes, The Book Thief was originally a novel) and I’m so happy they kept it in the film. I’m not so happy, however, about their choice of voice for Death. While all the actors speak with a German accent, Death sports an odd, almost cockney, English accent. All the other characters are completely lovable (and German), but Death’s voice makes him a bit too far removed. He is the back-sided piece in a finished puzzle.
But the script is without question magnificent. The writers had a great foundation in the book, and they thankfully kept some of the most beautiful lines. The Book Thief teaches you the value of every word and demonstrates the importance of a good story. It is definitely worth a see, and has my strong approval at 8.5/10. It brings a whole new perspective to war drama.