The Book Thief Review



Heartbreaking but spellbinding – Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief” comes to life in this film adaptation of the worldwide bestseller

When Sunswept Entertainment announced there would be a film adaptation of Markus Zusak‘s popular historical fiction novel The Book Thief, there was a substantial amount of excitement leading up to the film’s release. Premiering at the Mill Valley Film Festival on October 3, 2013, the film generated a successful box office sum of over $77 million to a largely receptive audience. Directed by Brian Percival and produced by Karen Rosenfelt and Ken Blancato, The Book Thief follows “Liesel Meminger” (played by Sophie Nélisse) after she comes into the care of Hans and Rosa Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson, respectively) when her mother is considered a Communist and so sends Liesel and her brother to safety. When Werner dies on the way to Molching, Liesel comes across a book buried in the snow. Little does she know how this act of stealing will ultimately change her life.

Endearing Characters

The greatest aspect of this film you will appreciate is the chemistry between each of the actors: most notably, between Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush and Ben Schnetzer (who plays hidden Jew and friend “Max Vandenburg”). Sophie is positively captivating with her innocent blue eyes and facial expressions which say so much even without dialogue to accompany them. Likewise, Geoffrey wins you over the second his character smiles and waves at Liesel from outside the car. My favourite interactions however were between Sophie and Ben, who conveyed Liesel and Max’s heartfelt friendship with such ease. Truly, they were a joy to watch. But in saying that, every character was endearing in some way: whether Rosa with her ‘thunderous’ language or Rudy with his kiss-me comments.

Film Review The Book Thief

“I don’t know what it was about Liesel Meminger but she caught me. I cared.”

A Humorous Touch

Some might critique the moderately light-hearted nature of this film (in a sense, ‘glossing over’ the horrors of war-torn Nazi Germany), but the humor is what makes The Book Thief an enjoyable film to watch. Liesel’s best friend Rudy (played by Nico Liersch) assists greatly in this aspect; giving us some irresistible comical relief from the desolating situation our characters find themselves in. Similarly, Max and Liesel’s Hitler taunts helped alleviate the moments where all hope seemed lost. There was a comfortable balance between humor and sadness; counteracting the terror of Jews being arrested while their homes were looted. In a sense, the humor – not the horror – is what will make you want to watch this film over and over again.

The Inevitable Sadness

I’ve touched on the humor in this film, but it goes without saying that a story based on life in Nazi Germany is sure to be sad. Production wise, The Book Thief may not have chosen the ‘gory’ path to walk down, but the use of silence – in addition to a haunting musical score – worked just as well in conveying the grim nature of that time. The sets and scenery were exquisite; showcasing the divide between rich and poor but also emulating the snippets of happiness the Hubermann’s created for themselves (Hans’s accordion, for one). While the setting may have come across as “too perfect” (a lack of ‘realism’ perhaps) in a way, it fitted with Liesel’s view as a girl struggling to understand the terrible world around her.


Rudy: “I want to grow up before I die.”

Book to Film

With every book to film adaptation, there’s bound to be some aspects the reader won’t like: a missing interaction here, a change in character there. But while the film left out certain components (Liesel’s relationship with “Ilsa Hermann” the mayor’s wife [played by Barbara Auer] was a connection the film failed to develop), there was nothing missing of such great importance that it was detrimental to the story as a whole. The inherent beauty and masterful nature of Markus Zusak’s tale is far from lost in this film; it still conveyed the high’s and low’s of Liesel’s life on Himmel Street with confidence and grace. Even with parts omitted, this was a lengthy film (some might say too lengthy) so any additional material would have detracted from the storyline as it is.

Worth the Watch?

This film was utterly spellbinding. As a huge fan of the book, I was naturally critical when I went to see the movie – but I was not disappointed. The visual dynamics, the on-screen chemistry, the touching music and wonderful dialogue (even Death’s voice-overs): all helped me fall in love with this film. I have very few qualms aside from the length. While you come to expect phony accents to falter at one point or another, overall the actors did a very good job of demonstrating their believability as characters. If you haven’t seen this film, then now’s your chance: The Book Thief was released on DVD, Digital HD and Blu-ray 7th May. Seriously, do NOT miss out on the wonder and exquisite heartache of this film. You won’t regret it.

The Book Thief is out on Digital HD, Blu-ray and DVD on 7th May 2014

The Book Thief DVD Cover