Whenever the “Angel of Death” begins the narration of a story, an ominous feeling comes over me. So it goes, when the dark angel (voice of Roger Allam) begins to tell us the tale of “The Book Thief.”
Set in 1938 in a fictional German town prior to World War II, we see events unfolding through the eyes of Liesel (Sophia Nellisse), a foster child that can neither read nor write. A Red Cross worker brings Liesel to the home of Hans Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush) and his wife Rosa (Emily Watson), in what we perceive as an attempt to save the child from Nazi persecution.
Liesel, who is branded as a “dummkopf” in school by her classmates because of her illiteracy, is taught how to read by her kind hearted foster father and soon develops an affinity for books; but she soon finds herself at odds with the Nazi regime about what she can, and cannot read. After attending a book burning session by the Nazis, Leisel is befriended by the local burgermeister’s wife (Barbara Auer), who allows the girl to visit and peruse her late son’s library. Leisel’s heaven on earth is shattered when the chief “Burger” finds out about the visits and dismisses her from the household, forcing the young girl to sneak into house to borrow volumes of books to read.
“The Book Thief,” which is based on the popular young-adult novel by Marcus Zuzak, is a potent statement on the power of reading and writing, freedom, and escapism. In this case, Leisel’s discovery of the joys of reading and storytelling is a form of escapism from the horrors of war. Although some feel that the Nazi occupation portrayed during the movie was somewhat sugarcoated by director Brian Percival (Downton Abbey), I feel that the point was made without the blatant brutality that many movies of this genre exhibit. Take your children’s smart phones away from them for two hours and let them watch this movie: it may just change their perspective.
My Rating: 4 of 5 Good Reads.