The Book Thief Reviews
SCOTT: (Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond) Indeed. The lead character certainly stole my heart.
GREG: It s 1938 and in Nazi Germany it s not safe to be anyone who is not in the Party. 12-year-old Liesel Meminger s (Sophie N lisse) communist mother has arranged for kindly Hans Huberman (Geoffrey Rush) and not-so-kindly Rosa Huberman (Emily Watson) to look after her daughter. Liesel isn t in town long before she meets a very cute young boy named Rudy (Nico Liersch). Liesel has a secret. At her brother s burial, she stole a book from a grave digger. Hans asks her about the book and learns she cannot read. He then determines to teach her and covers the basement walls with chalkboards where she can write her dictionary words and become a proper reader.
SCOTT: The Hubermans hide a Jew in their basement, a young man named Max (Ben Schnetzer) who is the son of a man who saved Hans life during World War I. Liesel and Max become great friends. There are times when Max almost gets caught by the Nazis and when he almost dies from illness. Liesel has a job delivering laundry to the mayor and is invited into the mayor s huge library, where she is dazzled by the abundance of books. The war slowly heats up and the movie shows us how Liesel and her family attempt to survive soon-to-be bombed out Germany.
GREG: Scott, Liesel is just adorable as a young girl coming of age in one of the most depressing times in human history. She is burdened with many secrets: her mother, her stolen book, her illiteracy, and the man in the basement. She soldiers on demonstrating more maturity than many adults in such a situation. As a hero, we witness her growth from a shy, timid girl into a young woman of unusual courage. She finds a way to gain access to many books so that she can read to Max while he is sick. Rudy calls her a thief, but she insists she is only borrowing the books.
SCOTT: You re right, Greg, this is a great hero story about a girl who is forced by abhorrent circumstances to grow up too fast. The Book Thief is exactly the kind of movie that I was pining away for last summer when we were subjected to one mindless action flic after another. The Book Thief could be accused of being slow and plodding, but I enjoyed the deliberate pacing of events which allowed us to truly get to know and love the characters. This is one of those movies that teaches us some important life lessons. We learn the dangers of nationalism, the senselessness of racism, and the horrors of warfare. We also learn the importance of telling people that you love them while they re still around, or in Liesel s case, kissing people you love while they re still alive.
GREG: True enough. There s a scene where the Nazi party is having a book burning event. It s hard to imagine such books as H. G. Wells The Invisible Man seen as a danger to society. I was struck by how easily we have access to books in our culture. With the abundance of libraries, bookstores, and online outlets, we often take books for granted. And I was given pause by the rise in the popularity of eBooks and wondered if this weren t a modern book burning? If all the print books are gone, how easy would it be to control what we can and cannot read? Still, the point of The Book Thief lies elsewhere. It s a story of a young girl who grows up loving books and loving the people around her in a time when love seems like a four letter word. As a writing coach I was warmed as I watched Liesel overcome her illiteracy and become both a strong young woman and a strong reader and writer. I give The Book Thief 4 out of 5 Reels and Liesel 4 out of 5 Heroes. Movie: Heroes:
SCOTT: The supreme importance of books and literacy is a major take-home message of The Book Thief. Her passion for reading is what cements her relationship with her father and with Max. The wisdom that she gleans from the books is a symbol of freedom of thought that is independent from the Nazi oppression all around her. Her thievery of books is the necessary rebelliousness from that oppression and from so many of the dark forces all around her that she cannot control. This is a wonderful gem of a movie, Greg. Sophie N lisse shines in her role as Liesel and I m sure we ll see much more of her in the movies. I highly recommend The Book Thief and also give it 4 Reels out of 5. It was a joy watching Liesel come of age and evolve into a brave young woman. I give her 4 Heroes out of 5 as well. Movie: Heroes:
Given the focus on death, you'd expect the film to deal a lot with the pain of loss and the heartbreak of war. You'd be wrong. Losses do come and they do hurt people, but for the most part they're just passed over in silence. And most of them happen in one big (literal) burst at the end, leaving us with nothing to do but wrap up. And it's here that the painfully sympathetic Death really stands out like a sore thumb. Because when Death is such a friendly presence why are individual deaths tragic? It can probably be made to work, but it doesn't here.
In the end I felt nothing. And that's a real shame because the movie is blessed with some extremely strong performances. That's to be expected from Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson obviously, but the child actors are truly first rate as well. Particularly the lead girl and her close friend. They never felt stagey or out of step with the reality of the piece. The film had some wonderful production values too, really capturing the feel of everyday life in Nazi Germany.
I appreciated their avoidance of many of the cliches I've come to expect from such films. I waited till the very end for her friend in the Hitler Youth to sell her out, or consider selling her out, or even be conflicted about her obvious distaste for the Nazis, but it didn't happen. He actually joined in on her bandwagon. Unfortunately, in avoiding cliches it failed to provide any real substitute for the drama those cliches are there to produce. And as such, I left the film feeling empty and unsatisfied, for all that the cast and tone made me want to enjoy it.