Well, it’s terrible like I feared, and I can’t see any serious film goer out of their teen years thinking it’s any good. Was Markus Zusak’s book this schmaltzy? I know how popular it’s been for nearly a decade now, and how many millions of copies the darn thing has sold–but plenty of crappy bestsellers can claim that. You let me know if you’ve read it…I’m eager to hear how you felt about it. But the film is indefensible. Maudlin, spurious, cartoonish, with the broadly transmitted message that insists “Nazis are bad”. Um, yeah–no shit. What else ya’ got? There might have been a shot at this ship not totally sinking if great actors like Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson were allowed to properly showcase their wares. Alas, both are stranded inside marionettes of shameless caricature archetypes, with nary an opening to breathe. I mean, is there ever a doubt that the tough exterior of Watson’s Rosa character is hiding a “heart of gold”? I thought not. It had to be suffocating for them filming this twaddle. And if that final scene doesn’t recall for you the penultimate one from 1997’s Best Picture recipient…I’ll print and eat this review.
Pre-teen Liesel Meminger arrives at the modest, German foster home of Hans and Rosa Hubermann, when her Communist mother is in danger of being persecuted by the Nazi regime. The Hubermann’s expected her brother too, but the already ill child died in transit. Immediately befriended by the similarly aged Rudy (who walks her to her new school on her first day), it is revealed that Liesel is unable to read–after being called to the blackboard by the teacher. Of course, by then we’ve already witnessed her “steal” one book (from a priest!), so it’s predestined by the film’s title that her ignorance will be rectified upon swiping some more. But first we’ll have to watch her experience Kristallnacht, the rise of the Hitler Youth Movement, the hiding of a Jew in the Hubermann’s basement, book burnings and air raids. And then Rush’s accordian-playing, lovable, sixtyish, doofus Hans, speaks up for a neighbor and is sent to the army as punishment. Plus, all of it is basted with John Williams’ latest overbearing, Oscar-nominated score.
The revelation of the film’s narrator (same as the novel I’ve learned, upon research after watching) was astonishing to someone who hasn’t bent the binding. Every review I read (after the fact) mentioned it, but following my initial amazement, I simply shook my head and chuckled. Maybe it played better on the page, but it’s ridiculous cinematically. Then there’s that Disneyesque interpretation of Nazi Germany. Honestly, for people who were offended by 1998’s “Life is Beautiful”, wait until you get a load of this! It is mildly redeemed by the casting of the charming Sophie Nelisse as Liesel. Ms. Nelisse, so memorable in 2011’s “Monsieur Lazhar (a review for that can be found on this blog, as well). But Sophie can’t save it with charm alone, plus her acting is only adequate here. Maybe it’s the fault of director Brian Percival and/or screenwriter Michael Petroni. Neither appears to know the definition of subtlety. “The Book Thief” is too clean, and too puerile, and simply not anywhere near challenging enough as a film adaptation. I would hope the novel is superior. But sadly, the movie is instantly forgettable.