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Blu-ray Review: The Book Thief

March 11, 2014

The Book Thief Blu-ray CoverThe Book Thief – A 20th Century Fox Release

http://www.thebookthief.com

Blu-ray Release Date: March 11th, 2014

Rated PG for violence and mature themes

Running time: 131 minutes

Brian Percival (dir.)

Michael Petroni (screenplay)

Based on the novel by Markus Zusak

John Williams (music)

Sophie Nélisse as Liesel Meminger

Geoffrey Rush as Hans Hubermann

Emily Watson as Rosa Hubermann

Nico Liersch as Rudy Steiner

Ben Schnetzer as Max Vandenburg

Roger Allam as Narrator/Death (voice)

Our reviews below:

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The Book Thief Blu-ray Review By John Corrado

**1/2 (out of 4)

At the beginning of World War II, Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nélisse) is sent to live with the kind Hans Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush) and his strict wife Rosa (Emily Watson) in Germany.  She learns to read alongside her charming stepfather, but still struggles to understand the increasingly volatile politics around her, while becoming close friends with her young neighbour Rudy Steiner (Nico Liersch).  When her adoptive parents hide Max (Ben Schnetzer) in their basement, a young Jewish man running from the authorities, Liesel finds new encouragement to read and write her own stories.

Based on a bestselling novel by Markus Zusak, The Book Thief had a lot of potential, and the film features solid acting from Geoffrey Rush as well as the excellent young Canadian actress Sophie Nélisse.  The Oscar-nominated music from John Williams is pleasant if generic, but the infamous narration by the oddly British voice of death (Roger Allam) just sounds awkward and pretentious, becoming a distraction throughout the film.  The cinematography is consistently good and there are some well done scenes, but as a whole The Book Thief is an overlong downer that doesn’t have many new things to say about the tragedies of World War II, and is only mildly worth a look for the fine performances.

The Blu-ray includes deleted scenes and several featurettes.

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The Book Thief Blu-ray Review By Erin V.

**1/2 (out of 4)

Based on the book by Markus Zusak, The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel (Sophie Nélisse), a girl adopted by a German family in 1938 Berlin.  At first she can’t read, but after her brother’s death she becomes fascinated by books – going so far as to steal/rescue them from the Nazi book burnings.  When her adoptive parents Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson) take in a Jewish refugee by the name of Max (Ben Schnetzer), Liesel finds someone who she can share her love of language with.

The film is beautifully filmed at times, although the editing is occasionally a little off.  The performances as well are fine, although the script at times feels pretentious.  Like the book, the film is narrated by Death himself (Roger Allam).  This narration actually tends to detract from the scenes it plays over and, while a huge part of the book, seems rather unneeded on screen.

Overall, fans of the book will certainly want to check out The Book Thief, although in terms of wartime films, it is nothing really special.  The film does have its flaws – one of which being its over two hour running time without much plot development.  But for those curious it’s ok for a rental on DVD.

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The Book Thief Blu-ray Review By Nicole

** (out of 4)

Sometimes a good story can be spoiled in an attempt to be clever.  This is the case in The Book Thief, based on the novel of the same name, narrated by the Grim Reaper (Roger Allam).  The Grim Reaper’s cheesily narrated interruptions are unintentionally funny in scenes that are meant to be serious, and only serve to take the viewer’s attention away from Liesel (wonderfully played by Canadian Sophie Nélisse), the hero of the title.

Liesel, a communist orphan, is adopted by a German couple, Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson).  While Rosa is disappointed by Liesel, (she wanted a boy, shades of Anne of Green Gables), Hans is kind, teaching her to read and tucking her in at night.  Liesel soon makes friends in her new hometown.  Rudy (Nico Liersch), her best friend from school has a crush on her, making no secret of it, much to the derision of classmates.

But Liesel also has some adult friends.  When WWII breaks out, her family shelters a sickly young Jewish man named Max (Ben Schnetzer), who wants to learn to read.  She brings him all sorts of books, often stealing them from the Burgermeister’s wife (Barbara Auer).  Max and Liesel become like brother and sister, a friendship that is believable and heartwarming.  The Book Thief is interesting in that this is the first WWII movie for families that explores how German children and other innocent German people were brainwashed and forced to support Hitler’s army, whether they wanted to or not.  However many, like Liesel’s family, secretly rebelled.  War is shown as the true enemy, it does not take sides, but destroys innocent lives.

The acting in The Book Thief is good.  The cinematography is lovely and John Williams’ score is gentle and childlike, capturing Liesel’s innocence.  The scenes starring Liesel, her family and friends are the strongest in the film.  But the film is too long for both the story and its young target audience.  The script could have been tighter and better written.  When death scenes are shown in slow motion, with the Grim Reaper narrating what is obvious on the screen in convoluted “poetic” language it is pathetically funny.  Why not just say or show that someone dies?  The viewers don’t need the Grim Reaper to tell them.

The last scene, (which is supposed to be now, but would actually be 2018), seems tacked on.  But despite its flaws, The Book Thief is still worth checking out for the acting.  The film is also a fine introduction to WWII history for older children and teens.

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The Book Thief Blu-ray Review By Maureen

**1/2 (out of 4)

There is no shortage of movies set in in WWII Germany.  They all share similar historical story lines, but what makes The Book Thief unique is the voiceover narration by Death (Roger Allam), a literary device that is used in the original book by Markus Zusak.  While Death narrates at odd intervals, the story itself is centred around a young German girl named Leisel (Sophie Nélisse).

When Leisel’s Communist mother flees Germany, she is sent to live with foster parents Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson).  Hans dotes on Leisel, while Rosa takes more time warming up to her.  Leisel also finds a friend in her next-door neighbour and classmate, Rudy (Nico Liersch).  However, her greatest comfort comes from the books she “borrows” as she teaches herself to read.  When Hans and Rosa take in and hide Max (Ben Schnetzer), the Jewish son of a family friend, it’s the books that Leisel reads to him that keep him going.

The highpoint of The Book Thief is Canadian actress Sophie Nélisse’s excellent performance.  Her scenes with Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson are all believable and touching.  She seems natural as Leisel.  But overall The Book Thief is not as strong a movie as it could have been, particularly when Death interrupts a scene with voiceover words that could be described as cheesy.  We get it, death has a lot of power in war.  Perhaps if the movie had been a little shorter, Death’s interruptions might have been easier to take.

But if you are a fan of the book or want to check out another wonderful performance from Sophie Nélisse, then The Book Thief is worth a look.

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The Book Thief Blu-ray Review By Tony

**1/2 (out of 4)

The title character of The Book Thief is Liesel (Sophie Nélisse), a young girl sent in 1938 to live with foster parents Hans and Rosa (Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson) in a small German town. Rosa is stern and unfriendly at first but Hans is kind, patiently helping the illiterate Liesel learn to read. They are joined by Max (Ben Schnetzer), a young Jewish man whom Hans promised to hide in his home as an obligation to Max’s father who had died saving Hans in WWI. Both Liesel and her best friend Rudy (Nico Liersch) are increasingly disenchanted with Hitler’s policies. When the Nazi Burgermeister’s wife sees Liesel rescuing a volume from a public book burning, she invites Liesel to borrow books from her own library. Max encourages Liesel to read and use her imagination as she tells him about the world outside, and when Max gets sick, she continues to read to him. As the war goes on, Death takes a large toll on all sides.

The Book Thief is based on the best selling book by Australian author Markus Zusak, whose parents grew up in wartime Germany. Like the book, the film uses Death (Roger Allam) as the narrator and he is never far away, even foreshadowed by the street name Himmelstraße (Heaven Street). It is beautiful to watch, shot with a muted palette on location in Görlitz, the historic German town near both the Polish and Czech borders often used in recent films such as The Reader, Inglourious Basterds and The Grand Budapest Hotel.

However, it is Sophie Nélisse who lights up the screen in every scene as the embodiment of Liesel envisioned by the author, who recommended her over a thousand others after seeing her performance in Monsieur Lazhar. Geoffrey Rush is also brilliant, but most of the cast and film overall are a bit disappointing. Though admirably depicting wartime from the other side, with decent people being caught up in the struggle between humanity and blind patriotism at the expense of Jews and other hated groups, at 131 minutes it is perhaps a half hour too long for the slight story it tells. Moreover, the narration, often clunky dialogue delivered in German accents sprinkled with words like “nein” and “und” and heavy-handed imagery can be distracting. Even the musical score from John Williams, though fine enough, is not among his most inspired work.

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Consensus: Based on a bestselling novel, The Book Thief features good performances from Geoffrey Rush and young Canadian actress Sophie Nélisse, but the WWII film is overlong with needlessly distracting narration from the voice of death.  **1/2 (Out of 4)

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