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‘Book Thief’ steals more than hearts at the box office with its storytelling

Movie Review

For The Miami Student

Published: Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 00:12

“Words are life, Liesel. All those pages, they’re for you to fill.”

Based on the New York Times bestselling novel, “The Book Thief” is a solid adaptation that will please those who have read the book and those who have not alike. “The Book Thief” tells the tale of nine-year-old Liesel Meminger, focusing on her life with a German foster family during the years of World War II.

Having read and adored the book six years ago, I was skeptical going into the theater because I didn’t think the story would adapt well for the screen. I’m happy to say that my skepticism faded away after the first fifteen minutes.

The movie is lovely visually, both in cinematography and set design. That, combined with spot-on casting, was enough to draw you in. But it’s the story itself that keeps you interested, not the external choices about casting or camera angles made by directors or cinematographers.

Over the course of two hours, you come to genuinely care about the characters and what happens to them. Whether you are reading the book or watching the movie, you are truly affected by their stories once it’s over.

The only downfall of this otherwise wonderful adaptation was the reason for my skepticism in the first place, one that is more of an afterthought as someone who has read the book than an actual problem with the film; the issue of the narrator.

Death is a “living” being who is tasked with collecting the souls of those people who have died. He is the one who tells Liesel’s story, and, in the book, does so in a way that makes him a part of the story itself because he is such an active narrator.

While Death does pop in for narration during the movie, it doesn’t seem as cohesive with the rest of the story and I wonder if those viewers who didn’t read the book before seeing the movie found Death’s narrations odd and random.

Unfortunately, I didn’t feel as though the unique narrator that leads readers through the novel transferred to screen well in the adaptation, though, given the circumstances, I think those involved with writing the screenplay did the best they could.

In any case, the story told is still wonderful. Liesel’s journey is all about friendship, family, hope and the power that stories and the written word have in our lives. Her story, both as a book and film, is beautiful and touching.

Newcomer Sophie Nélisse plays Liesel, who we follow as she adjusts to life with foster parents Hans and Rosa, attempts to make sense of a seemingly pointless war and discovers a new passion while learning how to read and write.

With her captivating blue eyes Nélisse does an admirable job, but it is Academy Award winner Geoffery Rush, as her adopted father Hans, who steals the show. Rush is exceptional as Hans, a caring man who plays the accordion and treats Liesel like royalty. I sincerely hope that when award season rolls around, Rush’s spectacular performance is remembered.

Overall, “The Book Thief” was worth the trip, a gem among this season’s blockbusters and a film I’d recommend whether you’ve read the book or not. Either way, you’ll leave with a newfound appreciation of how much stories can affect our lives.

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