26 September 2023

The Book Thief

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Reviewed by Victor Rebikoff.


Director: Brian Percival, 20th Century Fox, PG 131 Minutes

In a different opening approach to this emotion-filled movie helmed by the director of TV’s ‘Downton Abbey’”, Brian Percival is the voice of Death (Roger Allam) acting as narrator throughout this enthralling World War 2 drama.

The story, which is set in 1938 in pre-war Germany, essentially revolves around Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nelisse of ‘Monsieur Lazhar’), a young German girl whose brother’s untimely death forces her mother to leave her in the care of a foster family.

Liesel’s stepmother turns out to be the strict Rosa Hubermann (Emily Watson of ‘The Theory of Everything’) while her stepfather is the kind-hearted Hans Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush-‘King’s Speech’) who later teaches Liesel to read after learning that she is illiterate.

Shortly after her arrival, Liesel forms a close friendship with boy next door, Rudy Steiner (Nico Liersch of ‘Hanna’s Sleeping Dogs’), with the pair even going to school together and becoming members of Hitler’s Youth Movement.

It is at a Nazi book burning ceremony where Liesel salvages a book, only to be seen by the mayor’s wife Ilsa Hermann (Barbara Auer of ‘The Weekend’) whom she afterwards encounters when delivering laundry.

During a brief meeting, Ilsa allows Liesel to read the books from their library until she is confronted by her husband-mayor Hermann (Rainer Bock of ‘Tracks’), who cuts short her visit and stops her from ever coming back to their home.

At the same time, both Hans and Rosa get involved in helping Max Vandenburg (Ben Schnetzer of ‘Pride’), a Jewish person fleeing from the Nazis, by hiding him in their basement where he subsequently develops a personal relationship with Liesel.

With World War 2 having commenced Hans is conscripted into the army leaving Liesel to look after the bed-ridden Max by reading to him over the period of his recovery until Hans returns from the Front.

Tragically, their family reunion is short-lived following the town’s bombing which kills Hans, Rosa and Rudy but spares Liesel.

Percival’s near perfect direction of his World War drama is based on Markus Zusak’s international bestseller and, besides being highly emotional in parts, there is much to enjoy in many of the storyline’s gripping scenes.

Apart from the stunning German settings, there are convincing performances by an international ensemble cast, particularly Nelisse’s powerful portrayal as Liesel without overlooking Rush and Watson in their respective roles.

THE BOOK THIEF will be shown on Channel 7flix on Saturday, 2 May at 8.30PM AEST.

Vic’s Verdict: 4 Stars

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