This is a film adaptation of the best selling novel by the same name, written by Australian Markus Zusak. Set in the Second World War, the film narrates the life and times of the young Liesel Meminger, adequately played by newcomer Sophie Nélisse,(notwithstanding her inconsistent accent).
With the device of the ‘angel of death’ as narrator, the film opens with the demise of Liesel’s younger brother and her arrival at the home of foster parents in Germany. Her love affair with books begins here, when she picks up the ‘The Gravediggers Manual’ left at her sibling’s hurried, impoverished burial.
Geoffrey Rush plays the enormously sympathetic stepfather, Hanns Hubermann, and Emily Watson, his fierce but ultimately loveable wife, Rosa. A young neighbour Rudy, immediately befriends Liesel, and this friendship is one of the film’s strengths. Nico Liersch plays this character winningly and well.
As the story pans out, ‘Max’ a Jewish boy seeks shelter with the Hubermann’s and much of the film’s suspense is built around the fear of his discovery. Meanwhile, Liesels love affair with literature continues as she is taught to read, and later manages to pillage from the local Buergmeister’s extensive library – hence the tale’s title.
Ultimately, there are bombings and the likeable actors are killed off leaving us with Max (Ben Schnetzer) who plays mostly like a bewildered Pekinese, and Leisel, pretty, blue eyed but as vacuous as a doll.
As film narratives go, this film is just ‘OK’. It has to be said, that this book was one that I ‘threw at the wall’ because it lacked conviction. One may even compare this film to Roberto Benigni’s ‘Life Is Beautiful’, which has far more emotional impact. Unfortunately the sentimental manipulations of the storyteller teeter just too near the brink of ‘trite’.
Yes! The film had great art direction, FX, snow, the ‘golden curled girl’, Nazis, and even death in black bowler hat…but it failed to grip in the way that it should. Like any fable, it tells a tale but lacks emotional credibility.
Brian Percival directs (funnily enough in a style reminiscent of the Harry Potter films) and he was supported in equal terms by the cinematography and editing. The film might entertain one or two, but it won’t linger in the mind.
RATING Might be worth seeing for the performances of Rush, Watson and Liersch only. Couldn’t care two figs for the story or the book, but this puts me in a minority, apparently.