Hey, you remember when Life of Pi took a stab at the Oscars? Well, the studio that created the film is going for the little gold man once more.
The Book Thief is the story of a young girl in Nazi Germany and how her love of books helps her to thrive. Is it worth adding to your video library or should it be burned on a bonfire of books? Well, let’s take a look at the trailer and find out. (To follow along, click here.)
The main girl, Liesel, is played by Sophie Nelisse, a young foreign actress in her breakout role. Her adopted parents, Hans and Rosa, are portrayed by Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson respectively. Rush is best known for his roles in The King’s Speech, The Pirates of the Caribbean films, and Shakespeare in Love, while Watson has made appearances in Red Dragon, War Horse, and The Corpse Bride.
The director is Brian Percival, a man who has mostly directed television shows, including several episodes of the popular Downton Abbey. I’ve never seen the show myself, but I’ve heard it’s really good, so hopefully the movie is equally enthralling. Also, I don’t normally mention the composer in my reviews, but the score for The Book Thief is written by none other than John Williams, the greatest composer in modern film. That fact at least makes me want to check out the soundtrack, whether or not I see the movie.
The trailer opens with Liesel riding a train to meet the people who will be taking her in for the duration of World War II. Why do I feel like I’m about to watch the Nazi version of The Chronicles of Narnia? Liesel tells us that she has no family and no home, and that she never understood the meaning of the word “hope.” Clearly she also has no dictionary. Then her new parents show up, and Hans calls her “Your Majesty.” Oh, wait, you’re not actually a princess? Sorry, we clearly signed up for the wrong girl.
But no, the two take in Liesel and encourage her to call them Mama and Papa. I’m not going to lie; from this snippet of a scene alone, it looks like it’d be fun to have those two for parents, especially if you’re Liesel’s age. Hans find’s Liesel’s first book and asks if she’s sure it’s hers. Liesel replies that it wasn’t always hers. No kidding? You haven’t owned that book for it’s entire existence? What a novel concept! No pun intended. I’m guessing the implication is that she stole it, but seriously, you could say that about anything you own unless you made it yourself.
A boy at school teases Liesel for not being able to read, and she demonstrates that there’s one thing she does very well: beat up bullies on the playground. I’m not sure whether that teacher is coming to stop her or to recruit her for the Gestapo. Instead of punishing her, Hans gives Liesel her own giant blackboard so they can practice reading and writing together. Because clearly it’s more important to teach her to read than not to beat up poor helpless children.
But a Mormon named Max comes to the door one night–or maybe he’s a Jew. Either way, he knocks on the door and holds a book. In any case, Hans and Rosa decide to take him in and hide him from the Nazis. They put him to bed, and Liesel asks if the book is his. “It wasn’t always mine,” Max replies. He uses the same words Liesel used days earlier? What an unbelievable coincidence! What profound writing!
The Nazis come a’knocking, and the family hides Max under a Nazi flag. Clearly the Gestapo man is thinking, Should I check under that conspicuously draped Nazi flag? Nah, no one would ever hide a man under the emblem of those trying to kill him. That would be far too ironic! In a poignant moment, Hans tells Liesel that if the Nazis find Max, they’ll take the girl away and do horrible things to the refugee. Then the mood is ruined by an obnoxious, unnecessary trailer voice. If you’re going to use the trailer voice, use it throughout the whole trailer. Don’t introduce it halfway through!
“If your eyes could speak, what would they say?” Max asks Liesel. They’d probably say, “Stop screaming! You’d think you’d never seen talking eyes before.” A random boy guesses that Liesel is hiding someone, and Rosa wonders if they can trust her. Clearly not, since the fact that a ten-year-old boy was able to guess the truth with such certainty means that Liesel is a horrible secret keeper. But Hans says they can because she’s their daughter.
Max and Liesel share a tender moment, Liesel salvages a book from a bonfire, and the same inquisitive boy accuses her of stealing books. “When life robs you, sometimes you have to rob it back,” the girl explains. Except you’re not robbing life, you’re either saving books from destruction, which isn’t stealing and the film has every right to praise your actions, or you’re robbing people, which is bad and this film has no business praising your actions. It’s either really good or really bad. “Words are life, Liesel” Max tells her as the trailer ends. “All those pages, they’re for you to fill.” So she’s filling pages with life? I think you’re mixing your metaphors, Max.
So based on the trailer, do I recommend this movie? Yes, yes I do. It’s got good actors, strong emotion, and a well-written story (for the most part). And of course, you get a John Williams soundtrack to go with it. What’s not to like? Will I see it? Probably not in theaters, but any movie that supports reading, even under oppressive Nazi regimes, sparks my interest. So I’ll probably rent it at some point. As Aristotle said, “Suffering becomes beautiful when anyone bears great calamities with cheerfulness, not through insensibility but through greatness of mind.” That certainly sums up this movie.
The Book Thief is owned by 20th Century Fox.