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With a holocaust backdrop, The Book Thief explores a young girl’s world filled with tragedy, but with people who inspire love, hope, and perseverance.
Review (with Spoilers)
After seeing three films featuring slavery the horrors of slavery, it is only right to throw a holocaust film in there. However, it should be noted that The Book Thief isn’t a rated R picture, so it may give you an idea of what is going on, but never gets so gritty you feel that a young person couldn’t go for it would leave them with nightmares. With that said, though, don’t think this film doesn’t have the potential to bring tears to your eyes.
Characters & Story
The lead of this film is a young girl named Liesel (played by Sophie Nelisse) who is a young girl, seemingly, abandoned by her mother and now under the care of an old couple. Said couple, Hans (played by Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (played by Emily Watson) are complete opposites. Hans is the usual silly dad you would find in a sitcom, though not slapstick silly, and Rosa is the more serious of the two. Maybe even so serious she could fit a possible stereotype. Outside of Liesel’s new family is the boy who has a crush on her Rudy (played by Nico Liersch), and he seemingly has the type of love for her which could be a movie on its own, maybe a 1940s German version of Bridge to Terabithia. Then there is Max (played by Ben Schentzer) who is a Jew Liesel bonds with as he hides in their home, and lastly there is death (voiced by Roger Allam) who is, naturally, an ominous figure.
Together, they make a film in which we watch Liesel become familiar with a street where all these characters meet, and the place is named Heaven. Liesel starts off aloof, but Rudy breaks down those walls, and Hans is the first one to help her truly blossom. Then comes Max who inspires Liesel to write, and amongst this all is a woman named Ilsa Hermann (played by Barbara Auer) who provides the resources for Liesel’s vocabulary to grow. But, as Liesel’s mind advances, so does Germany’s war and with Death being a character in the movie, you are always on pins and needles.
First and foremost, perhaps there hasn’t been as interesting of a young female lead in a movie since Ivana Baquero of Pan’s Labyrinth or Lina Leandersson in the original Let The Right One In. But, considering Nelisse speaks English, likely she may be able to follow after Saoirse Ronan, Jennifer Lawrence or even Chloe Moretz and find herself a nice career. It must be noted, though, part of the beauty of her performance comes from playing off her wonderful supporting cast. Rush’s character, and Watson’s too to a point, make wonderful parents who present both the fun-loving side of humanity and the side of humanity which worries about everything and because of that, they become critical of those who find freedom in just living.
Also, a part of me liked how despite the holocaust background, the focus wasn’t strongly on Max. If anything, him coming in and the beginning of the holocaust showed that, even as allegiances had to be made, not everyone was in support of the regime, at least in private. Perhaps, though, most of all, it was just nice to watch Nelisse get comfortable in the role. She started off aloof, as said, and awkward to the point where you want to question her talent, but as he character becomes familiar with her surroundings, we see her abilities shine and that is why I think she could have a great career with this being her western world launch pad.
Of course, though, as with any movie, there are issues. For one, though I love Rudy’s character, sometimes Liersch had that same awkwardness Nelisse had, but for him it never ended. Even in the middle, to end, of the movie, he still seemed like he wasn’t comfortable yet and while it didn’t badly hamper things, he did stick out. Other than that, the only other issue was the ending. The ending leaves you with some unanswered questions and a lack of clarity. Not in such a major way where it ruins the movie, but it will likely lead to you asking someone, like I will on IMDB, what their take was.
Overall: Worth Seeing
I’ll admit, I didn’t get as emotional as I thought I would/ should during many scenes, but after Scandal, Monogatari and The Best Man Holiday, maybe I’m just all cried out this weekend. Still, the performances are largely brilliant, the story is compelling and there are moments which bring tears and laughter. Not to forget, this could possibly be the movie which may lead to Ms. Nelisse’s career taking off, and who doesn’t want to say they remember seeing a quality actress when they first started (she has other work, but this seems to be her first western-world role).