The Book Thief - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

The Book Thief Reviews

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Super Reviewer
March 5, 2014
The narrative style that this movie takes isn't the worst part of this movie. Occasionally funny and sweet but not enough to save you from the boredom that ensues!
Super Reviewer
½ March 1, 2014
Messy as this aseptic drama is from a narrative point of view, with language inconsistencies and dozens of pointless elements, it is also a mystery what it wants to say after all, lacking emotional weight and tension while being completely detached from the real world.
Super Reviewer
½ December 3, 2013
Courage beyond words.

Great Film! "The Book Thief" has wonderful photography by Florian Ballhaus, an excellent musical score by Golden Globe and Oscar winning John Williams, and best of all, marvelous acting from Sophie Nelisse as the young girl, Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson as her adoptive parents, and Ben Schnetzer as the Jewish boy they hide. Many of the core scenes with Nelisse, Watson, and Rush should be required viewing at any acting school. If the film has any fault at all, it is the decision by the film makers to try to walk a fine line between drama and fable. Having "Death" as the narrator right from the start seems to suggest fable, but the story itself veers sharply to drama for most of the 2+ hours, and then, noticeably at the end, reverts to fable. Some viewers may find this disconcerting. But the power of the story and the acting generally compensate for this short coming.

Based on the beloved bestselling book, THE BOOK THIEF tells the story of a spirited and courageous young girl who transforms the lives of everyone around her when she is sent to live with a foster family in World War II Germany.
Super Reviewer
½ December 29, 2013
Spoiler Alert - Any war movie set in Germany is doomed to an unhappy ending!
Super Reviewer
½ January 10, 2014
The Book Thief is a riveting drama set in the days of before the Second World War and during. This is an engaging story with a terrific cast. The film is a richly detailed tale about an adoptive girl who lives under the oppression of Nazi rule, and who defies Hitler's regime by stealing books in order to find an escape from the harsh realities of war. The plot is very well thought out, and it's told in a subtle way that you know that there is the terror of war, but the story only shows a few glimpses of that, and focuses more on the characters who are living through this dark period. Geoffrey Rush delivers a good performance here, and the rest of the cast bring something special to the screen, that really makes this a far better film than what critics have said. The Book Thief has its weak points, but overall, it's a highly entertaining and captivating picture. I felt at times, however that the film could have been better, and that some parts should have been reworked a bit to really make it standout. The Book Thief, as it stands, is a very good film, but one that could have been better. Despite its limitations, The Book Thief is worth seeing, and is a compelling drama that has plenty of worthwhile performances to make up for the lacking material. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the film, and thought it handled a dark subject matter in a subtle way, and it makes for a very good film. The Book Thief is a far better film that you might think, and though it doesn't stand out, it's still an entertaining piece of dramatic cinema, and one that relies on a cast of very talented actors and a good story to grab your attention. But like I said, it could have been reworked to make it a far more memorable film than what we got on-screen. Still, The Book Thief is worth checking out despite its flaws.
Super Reviewer
January 12, 2014
Not having read the book first, I feel no remorse as to review it that way. I believe this would work so much better in novel form, due to it's time period and slow pacing. It is genuine when it needs to be and sad at the times you expect it to be, which works in it's favour, but when the story begins, it just feels like it could be told in a short 20 minute narrative of what comes next, rather than a 130 minute feature. I didn't really dislike anything about this film, I just didn't think it was anything spectacular. "The Book Thief" has a great performance by Geoffrey Rush and the conclusion will most definitely leave you in tears. Overall, I liked the movie, but it's very slow and it feels 30 minutes too long.
Super Reviewer
½ January 11, 2014
A good story let down by pulled punches and an occasionally weak script. Full review later.
Super Reviewer
½ December 24, 2013
Its intentions are good, its message is powerful, and it's beautifully shot, but The Book Thief ultimately falls victim to being a very clear-cut case of a story that suffers from the necessities of the adaptation process. Unlike many World War II movies, the story revolves not around tension and mortality but around less tangible themes of literature and imagination. Because film -- as a visual medium -- is far less equipped to converting such internally-oriented subject matter, the film has to employ other means to getting across its messages. Unfortunately, this includes the intensely manipulative score by John Williams and the heavy-handed repetition of 'important' symbols. This sort of filmmaking may to some be 'old-fashioned' and not problematic at all, but to me it felt like a cloying, overly-sentimental slog. It's a shame too, because there are certain visual elements - such as a wall covered in vocabulary words and a huge, dusty library - that reveal the potential for creating a striking adaptation that takes unique advantage of the film form. Instead we are left with such flaws as child actors who speak to each other unnaturally as if pretending to be adults and don't physically age even though the story takes place over the course of several years. In the end, the story is absolutely not the problem; even though I haven't even read the novel it is abundantly clear that The Book Thief serves as an unfortunate admission that not every acclaimed novel lends itself as well to film.
Super Reviewer
½ December 23, 2013
Another beautiful movie that the critics did not like. Go figure. For me, and the others that saw this with me, it was a moving, heartfelt, and well done film. I didn't read the book, but I have been told that this was a perfect, if not better, interpretation of the book. This movie stole my heart...and many of my tissues, too.
Super Reviewer
March 20, 2014
I expected a lot from this American-German war drama film based on the novel of the same name by Markus Zusak. Directed by Brian Percival and written by Michael Petroni, with an Oscar-nominated musical score composed by John Williams and starring Emily Watson, Geoffrey Rush, Sophie NÚlisse, Ben Schnetzer, Nico Liersch, and Joachim Paul Assb÷ck, it had all the elements to be outstanding, but it didn't break the "average" barrier.

I liked the unique approach of narration by the Angel of Death (Roger Allam) of the events starting in April 1938 in Nazi Germany. We hear that Angel of Death telling us how the young Liesel Meminger (Sophie NÚlisse) has piqued his interest. Liesel is traveling on a train with mother (Heike Makatsch) and younger brother when her brother dies. At his burial she picks up a book that has been dropped by his graveside (a gravedigger's manual). Liesel then finds herself in a new family, foster parents Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson) Hubermann, because her mother, a Communist, is in danger. When she arrives, Liesel makes a very strong impression on a neighbour boy, Rudy Steiner (Nico Liersch), and they become best friends.

I liked the performances of Sophie NÚlisse as Liesel Meminger, and Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson as Meminger's foster parents. Smooth, almost effortless and innocently lovely! I wish the director Brian Percival and screenwriter Michael Petroni could reach that level... but they were simply craftsmen serving up just another tasteful, staiged Hollywood imagination of the terrible times. There was no feeling or excitement and the slow pace didn't bring the suspense or mystery or even heaviness... most of the time ignited a wish for the director to speed up the things! It was a watchable movie but there was lack of honesty in it!
Cameron W. Johnson
Super Reviewer
½ February 27, 2014
Wow, man, it sure has been quite a while since we've seen a major film about Nazis, and I'd say that I'm glad to see that people are still trying to keep us from forgetting harsh realities, but it's been an even longer while since we've seen a major film about Nazis that wasn't fictionalized. Hey, I can at least give this film credit for trying to make itself seem as though it was based on a true story, Quentin Tarantino, because you'd figure that a Nazi film in which you take historical liberties would have more exciting things going on. No, this film is pretty intriguing and whatnot, but come on, people, you don't need such a hefty length to talk about one of the smaller scale aspects of the Nazi era, because "Schindler's List" can only work so many times. Calm down, guys, we all dig us some "Schindler's List", it's just that three hours and a quarter is something of a demanding length, so if nothing else about this film can be praised over "Schindler's List", I reckon it's the tightness. However, in most every other department, yeah, please don't go in expecting "Schindler's List", no matter how much the filmmakers want you to, what with their getting John Williams to do the score, as well as Emily Watson, who I don't remember seeing since "War Horse", Steven Spielberg's latest... overblown wartime opus. I'm not counting "Lincoln" as a Spielberg wartime opus, because it was way too much conversation and not a whole lot of warfare going on, kind of like "Schindler's List", only, you know, not quite as good. I liked "Lincoln" and all, but like I said, the "Schindler's List" formula seems to be losing some of its juice, as this film will reflect, being enjoyable and all, but not quite tight, in more than a few areas.

I joke about how it's been some time since we've seen a major film follow this sort of subject matter, but now that the Nazi film sub-industry is back in business, this film reminds you of what you've been missing a touch too much, following a worthy, but almost tired formula, until rendered utterly predictable as a conventional film about Nazism that at least cuts back on such tropes as a heavier sense of consequence. Later on, I will, of course, touch upon how natural shortcomings should perhaps limit the meat of this drama, but I can't help but feel as though this film is playing things a bit safe in its often watered down portrayal of the struggles we all know and are compelled by, yet can't get an especially firm enough grip on in this particular interpretation of limited consequence, no matter how much the storytellers try to draw out resonance. Having a tendency to almost abuse, say, John Williams' tender score, if not attempt to compensate for limitations in gritty happening with atmospheric overemphasis, this film has its share of genuine touches as a drama, but in far too many areas, it's sentimental, often to the point of being, dare I say, cheesy, being all but cloying in its desperate attempts at milking worthy subject matter for all its worth, no matter how much this particular vehicle for it lacks juice, even in concept. With all of my griping about how this drama either falls short on weight, or tries too hard to reinforce it, even the basic premise behind this particularly minimalist study on getting by in the midst of Nazism's rise isn't nearly as biting as other, perhaps more unique tales from this unforgettable time period, and if there is meat on the bones of this drama, then it's a while before they kick in on paper, let alone in execution. Yes, I joked about it time and again in the opening paragraph, but make no mistake, the final product's runtime is about as problematic as anything, for although this film is far from "Schindler's List" in its bloating, the runtime of 131 minutes is forcibly achieved through excesses, not so much in material, but filler, which further thins out the sense of urgency to this minimalist drama, and kind of dulls down what momentum there is to this narrative before too long, until the film ends up meandering along, lacking in drive, originality and meat. So much heart, in addition to an unexpectedly fair bit of entertainment value, is placed into this ambitious, maybe even overambitious project that the final product stands on the brink of rewarding, but it could have been so much more, and it would have is the overwhelming familiarity, safeness, sentimentality and dragging didn't give you more than enough time to think about the natural shortcomings that bland the final product into relative underwhelmingness. Nevertheless, while a grip on momentum is loose, decency is generally secured so firmly that, as I said, the final product comes close to a rewarding status, or at least entertains, partly with its aesthetic value.

I can't help but feel as though this film is sort of working to evoking thoughts of "Schindler's List" by employing John Williams to compose its score, and, yeah, don't go thinking that Williams is nearly as inspired with this score as he was with one of the best of his long, long career, composing a soundtrack which is not only conventional and lacking in prominence, but has plenty of cheesy spells which drive the sentimentality that in turn helps drive the final product into underwhelmingness, and yet, Williams still delivers on plenty of effectiveness to more subtly sharp classical sensibilities that not only help sustain entertainment value, but helps in capturing the feel for this period drama. More direct of a supplement to the selling of this effort is, of course, Bill Crutcher's, Jens L÷ckmann's and Anja MŘller's art direction, which, of course, isn't really rich in this minimalist period piece, but convinces enough in its production and costume designs to immerse you in the era, while certain lovely visuals, complimented by Florian Ballhaus' cinematography, draw you in on an aesthetic level. This is a very handsome film, of course, not quite being inspired enough to really stand out even on an artistic level, but still carrying enough tastefulness to its hearty, if derivative score and dapper, if minimalist visual style to strike more than a few aesthetic chords, and therefore play a part in endearing you to a finely drawn portrait on finely drawn subject matter. Needless to say, this film's thematic subject matter regarding caring for your fellow human in a dark time of dehumanization has enough of its own intrigue, it's just that there's something lacking about the meatiness and scope of this particular subject matter vehicle, which, even then, is still charming, with some sharp dramatic punctuation which brings this fictional story down to earth enough to succeed as an avatar for many important true stories. While undercooked, this story convinces enough to compel a fair deal, much like the acting, which is about as solid as it can be across the board, particularly within the lead cast, which boasts a humanly charming Ben Schnetzer, a memorably bitter Emily Watson, a delightfully warm Geoffrey Rush, and young leading lady Sophie NÚlisse, who convinces, not just with a German accent (First it's the French, Americans, and the British and Columbians simultaneously, and now the Germans, so it would appear Canada is well on its way to ripping everyone off), but as a spirited youth who comes of age during and comes to terms with troubled times. The onscreen talent never abates, as oppose to the offscreen talent, which, time and again, slips up, never glaringly, but enough to distance, to some degree or another, whether when it's holding back the storytelling's dramatic and structural momentum, or when it's bloating itself with sentimentality, and yet, the value of this subject matter, however limited, is done a serviceable bit of service, at least by Brian Percival, who keeps things lively enough to prevent the bland dry spells which admittedly works its way into many a film like this, and sometimes gets controlled enough in his dramatic storytelling to touch. Yes, the film is pretty touching at times, and while I wish resonance was much more consistent in this dramatically limited, but still potentially engrossing opus, the final product, through charm, backed by highlights in aesthetics and storytelling, endears decent.

When it's time to conclude another story in an important historical saga, the final product is secured as relatively underwhelming by the formulaic, watered down, sentimental and, of course, overlong interpretation of a story of limited intrigue, of which there is still enough for decent score work, fine art direction, a handsome visual style, and reasonably inspired performances, both on and off of the screen, to make "The Book Thief" yet another engaging account of the most shameful days in relatively recent German history, even though it could have been more.

2.75/5 - Decent
Super Reviewer
January 25, 2014
A saturated genre indeed is the Nazi Germany genre, encompassing many heart wrenching tales, with the holocaust as some sort of backdrop. The Book Thief certainly follows in these footsteps, yet manages to distinguish itself with a uniquely told story, and a narrative that, while occasionally derivative, does some interesting things. Based on the book, the film follows a girl sent to live with a foster family, a family which soon finds themselves hiding a Jewish man.

The film opens with a narration opining on death and the nature of humanity, and the film follows as a strong commentary on that. It is told with great earnest, featuring a perfectly arranged cast. The accolades in this case go largely to Geoffrey Rush, who has an old fashioned and folksy charisma and kindness that makes the film. The performance by Sophie Nelisse as Liesel is also strong, portraying a curiously precious young girl, with a distinct sense of emotional awareness. Thus, the dynamics between the characters in The Book Thief are very effectively executed, and endear us to the story and the resonate ending.

The film itself does feature a great deal of sentimentalism and, to some degree, some melodrama. At the same time, it's distinguished by a third act that goes in an unexpected direction, and a story that shows restraint. We don't see the entire horrors of Nazi Germany, but are given hints of its true nature. What we see is what Liesel experiences, and this is indicative of many German families at the time. This makes the film all the more effective, as a self contained story, not simply a fictionalized account set against an historical backdrop.

The film does come close to overstaying its welcome in the end, and the very last scene seems a bit too tidy, yet on a whole, it's a well told and an impactful film.

4/5 Stars
Super Reviewer
½ January 20, 2014
A Very beautifully shot and acted adaptation of Markus Zusaks' best selling book of the same name. While it was definitely approached with lots of big ambition and while its not perfect or in any sense inspiring, all elements within the film are worth a watch. I left the film enlightened and intrigued by this unique and fascinating tale that all in all has earned itself a very respectable execution. Recommended this is to satisfy anyone drama cup of tea ;)
Super Reviewer
January 17, 2014
Purloining your eyes but not exactly your heart with a beautifully threaded tapestry where history and fantasy intertwine as a safety net, the sanitized Book Thief nonetheless burns through the page and into your senses as one of the year's most original - though occasionally shortsighted - dramas. Granted, the material rings familiar. Filmgoers have seen World War II-set adventures and Nazi horror stories numerous times, but this interesting spin on Markus Zusak's inventive novel tells the tale anew, backed by letter perfect performances and painstaking period detail. However, it does all of this nearly TOO well. Were it not for the neatly wrapped bow on and the glossing over of war crimes, this Thief would have gotten away with the Oscar red handed.

In this PG-13-rated war drama, young Liesel (Nelisse) finds solace by stealing books and sharing them with others while the horrors of World War II Germany lie at her doorstep.

From the carefully constructed scene work to the beautifully shot cinematography to the safe re-telling of wartime atrocities, The Book Thief is a highly polished affair. Like his phenomenal cast, director Brian Percival shows all of the skill of a seasoned player. His adaptation of this YA novel aims at much more of audience than young adults, however. A rose-tinted view of Nazi Germany is what young and old filmgoers get, which doesn't serve anybody exceedingly well. Not letting the truth get in the way of the story, the film is good looking and smart...just not smart enough to broaden its audience.

Bottom line: Steal Away
Super Reviewer
December 30, 2013
This was a very touching and inspirational movie. It really made my want too read a book. Hats off to the young girl that played the lead role, she was very good.
Super Reviewer
½ January 10, 2014
While quaint is hardly a word you'd associate with a WW2 drama, The Book Thief somewhat uncomfortably fits such a description. It's more than a little disconcerting, which is to be expected from the perspective the film takes depicting the life in a small German town during the Nazi reign. For most of its running time, the drama is almost lighthearted and in the background; focusing its attentions on the thoughts and feelings of young Liesel, the look of the movie is much more youthful and innocent as she finds a the love and power in the written word through dark times.
Frequent Downton Abbey director Percivel frames the film as one would expect from such a drama; its lyrical and picturesque for the most part, again fitting for the story. The plot itself follows familiar beats, the drama veering from the oversentimental to poignant, and even with a few giggles. Again; disconcerting for a WW2 drama. Even moreso as the film winds to a close after an arguable overlong running time. It certainly packs an obvious emotional punch in contrast to the rest of the film, but it would be difficult for anyone beyond those with the coldest of hearts not to be swept up in what transpires.
The performances are all great though; the English spoken German accents doesn't always work, but Nelisse has great presence, Rush and Watson more than serviceable as Leisel's foster parents.
While at times it comes across as WW2-lite, and its tends to drag a little in spots because of it, The Book Thief is still a respectful film that will win over most audiences thanks to solid performances and an emotionally weighted story of youthful innocence that will appeal to a wide audience.
Super Reviewer
½ February 22, 2016
It's not even that bad. It's just that the film, lacking in the source material's depth and forceful grip, failed to meet the demands of such a powerful and compelling book.
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