Saturday movie review: 'The Book Thief'

I'm always a little leery of movies made from books I love. So when I saw that one of my favorite books of the last several years, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, was being filmed, I vacillated between being thrilled thrilled filmmakers loved it as much as I did and being reluctant to watch it when it came out just in case those filmmakers screwed it up.

I'm happy to report screenwriter Michael Petroni and director Brian Percival — who also directed several episodes of Downton Abbey — didn't screw it up. In fact, THE BOOK THIEF movie is rather true to The Book Thief book. Including that the story is narrated by Death, which I thought for sure couldn't possibly work in a film.

It worked, as did everything else about THE BOOK THIEF, in large part to the fine acting of Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson and the astonishingly beautiful Sophie Nélisse. (Really, it's hard to take your eyes of that gal!)

THE BOOK THIEF, set outside of Munich just before World War II breaks out — and narrated by death,  is the story of Liesel Meminger (Nélisse), a foster girl taken in by an accordion-playing man (Rush) and his harsh and demanding yet kind-hearted wife (Watson). Despite being unable to read, Liesel adores books. Her loving foster dad helps her learn to read — a skill that soon helps Liesel soothe her loved ones and neighbors during bombing raids. Her stolen books and reading ability also forge a strong bond with the Jewish man her family ends up hiding and protecting in their basement.


What I most enjoyed about the film: I've long been intrigued by stories of ordinary people dealing with the extraordinary and often unthinkable circumstances and atrocities before, after and during World War II. Seeing the multidimensional gem of a book I loved successfully translated to the screen warmed my heart, made me want to read the book again. Or see the movie again.

Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson are perfect in their roles as the foster parents (but aren't they always?). Sophie Nélisse, whom I hadn't seen before, embodied all I imagined Liesel to be. And Ben Schnetzer, who played the Jewish young man Max, tugged at the heart without playing preciously pitiful, as the part could have been.

The only slightly sour note for me was that Death, voiced by Roger Allam, sounded far more chipper than I imagined him to be while reading the book. Then again, though, I suppose Death truly was quite chipper about the thousands he welcomed into his arms during that horrific era.

THE BOOK THIEF (rated PG-13 for "some violence and intense depiction of thematic material") was released in theaters last November and on DVD, Blu-ray and digitally February 25. Find out more on the official website and Facebook page.