She’ll Steal Your Heart – a review of The Book Thief

Geoffrey Rush and Sophie Nelisse star in the WWII drama The Book Thief
Geoffrey Rush and Sophie Nelisse star in the WWII drama The Book Thief
5 stars for The Book Thief

Title: The Book Thief

Production Company: Fox 2000

Run Time: 131 minutes

Rated: PG-13

Director: Brian Percival

Stars: Sophie Nelisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Ben Schnetzer

Summary: Even war cannot stifle the heart and soul of a young girl trying to find herself amidst the chaos and cacophony. This girl will both capture and break your heart.

The backdrop of World War II is rich with stories yet left untold. And Steven Spielberg doesn’t have the monopoly on them either. Although John Williams (who composed the music for this film and most of Spielberg’s 1940s epics) may indeed own the era from a musical standpoint.

This is the first feature film from noted British television director Brian Percival. And I sincerely expect that this won’t be his last. This is a movie which should make audiences stand up and take notice of him.

Except for Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson, the film is devoid of major stars. And that, in itself, serves to extend and expand its screen credibility.

The story focuses on Liesel, played by fresh faced yet adorably headstrong Sophie Nelisse, who finds herself adopted by German parents Hans and Rosa at the onset of the second major dust-up involving the krauts.

Her new mother may seem overbearing and tyrannical, but she is well off-set by her new father’s incredible resolve, patience and understanding. They will serve to nurture and develop Liesel’s strength and virtues, each in their own way.

Along the way, she will meet the people who serve to form the framework of her life. Young Rudy (Nico Liersch) has an unfailing crush on her and a love for black athletes in a culture that eschews everything not of Aryan descent.

It’s when Max (Ben Schnetzer) shows up, though, that she truly learns the depths to which she can go to maintain her soul’s integrity. Max is a young Jew who seeks refuge in the family basement after Nazi uprisings begin to sweep the Hebrews from their homes amidst the village residents.

The story’s title stems from Liesel’s desire to learn to read. Prior to being adopted, her family had little time to devote to such pastimes. Rush’s Hans dutifully makes time to aid Liesel in her quest, encouraging her and nurturing her love of written words throughout their time together.

Even in her attempts to nurse Max back to health, Liesel reads to him as he rebuilds his strength. This creates a bond with him that even their circumstances will not easily disrupt or dissolve.

War, though, will take its toll and not all of the characters in the story will survive. But those that remain will become stronger for it.

The story strongly captures the German propaganda machine which, much like today’s media, paves the way for disinformation and spoon-fed sound bites designed to keep the low-information Germans in line with the War effort.

It’s interesting to see, though, that some folks weren’t easily fooled even then. These were the true heroes of the era.

Sophie Nelisse may be a new face, but she projects the utter sincerity so necessary of a young actress who, in essence, must carry the weight of the story on her shoulders. Her performance is not only notable, but strongly Oscar worthy.

Rush is, as always, a solid and steady performer who manages to steal our hearts and this movie with his heart-of-gold papa who would rather play the accordion than fight in a war.

Watson’s Rosa is more stoic and reverberant as one would expect. But beneath her stern demeanor is a woman with passion and love even when she chooses to hide it.

The film’s only pretentious moment comes at the expense of the narration which we are supposed to believe comes from the voice of Death, which is how Roger Allam is credited in the cast. Even, there, though, the voice serves a purpose, thus it cannot be dismissed nor critically over-analyzed.

This is an era that we, as a global community, must never ignore at our own peril. There are naysayers who may try to hide the truth behind a veneer of lies and deceit designed to say that the Holocaust never existed.

We must always remember, though, that those who ignore the truth will one day be doomed to repeat it. I give The Book Thief 5 out of 5 stars.

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