The Book Thief
Directed by Brian Percival
Written by Markus Zusak and Michael Petroni
Starring Sophie Niélisse, Geoffrey Rush, and Emily Watson
Fox 2000 Pictures/Studio Babelsberg
Rated PG-13 | 131 Minutes
Release Date: November 8, 2013
Directed by Brian Percival, best known for his work on Downton Abbey, and based on the bestselling novel by Markus Zusak, The Book Thief centers on a young German girl named Liesel, whose Communist mother places her with foster parents during World War II. Her adoptive parents are a middle-aged couple, Rosa and Hans, and she quickly is told to call them “Mama” and “Papa,” which suggests they are to be her permanent parents.
Emily Watson plays her stern adoptive mother, while Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush immediately wins Liesel, and the audience, over with his kindness, most vividly expressed in his warm, sympathetic eyes. Throughout, Rush’s character evokes humanity, morality, and compassion, and I truly came to love him.
Young Liesel begins to fit into her new surroundings, and even starts to experience happiness. Of course, this is in the midst of WWII, so we know that her joy will be fleeting. And that’s all I’ll spoil about this excellent film.
In her role as Liesel, Sophie Nilesse deserves special mention. She was completely captivating, delivering an astonishing performance that did not hit a single false note. I would not be surprised to see her receive an Academy Award nomination, as well as ones for Emily Watson and Geoffrey Rush.
By nature of its setting, The Book Thief offers a point of view that most of us rarely see, or consider. It suggests that not all Germans were acolytes of Hitler. And reminds us that it takes a willingness to risk death to voice dissent, or even a modest expression of humanity. It made me think of parallels to nations in today’s world, where there are several dictatorships ruling with a brutal fist.
Ultimately, The Book Thief examines the pockets of good that can exist even within the belly of the beast. It’s also about the world of hope that reading can offer, and the power of the printed word — two potent forces that fascistic regimes then and now, fear.
By the end, I noticed that audience members in my vicinity were moved to tears, myself included. It was a touching story, powerfully and expertly told. I look forward to seeing it again, in the near future.