The Book Thief (2013) will undoubtedly steal your heart. The film juxtaposes immensely small, intimate moments against a large, imposing backdrop. It is Germany during World War II. The German people cannot say aloud that they hate Hitler, they are drafted to go to war against their wishes, and they have to be able to barricade themselves at any moment from air strikes. Simultaneously, they still face the same day-to-day issues that we face today. The young children develop crushes on each other, a fellow classmate is jealous, wives fight with their husbands about money, parents yell at their daughters and sons about getting their clothes too dirty. In other words, the film presents the human condition in all its ugly and beautiful forms, so much so that the choices the characters make seem real.
It really is to the actors’ credit that they are able to breathe life into this world. Yet, despite Geoffrey Rush being the headliner, it is Sophie Nélisse, the actress playing Liesel, and Nico Liersch, the actor playing Rudy, who really steal the show. The two of them light up the screen whenever they appear in frame. In one scene, Liesel and Rudy are talking about running away from home, as he has just been drafted for the military. Rudy does not want to go, but Liesel cannot bear letting him leave. Towards the end of their conversation, when Rudy is deciding what he is going to ultimately do, Rudy and Liesel look at one another. Without any words, the communication that takes place is tangible. The viewer understands that Rudy is not going anywhere. Emily Watson also plays quite well as the nagging, unsatisfied wife, Rosa.
However, there is a lack of authenticity in many of the German accents and in the set design. In the outside town scenes, the shops and streets appear fake, clearly constructed only for the purpose of filming. It almost resembles the kind of staging found in the theater. Likewise, Hans and Rosa’s house does not seem old or withering the way that their social situation suggests. Small details like these would have contributed a great deal to perfecting the film. Moreover, the ending of the film seems a bit rushed and therefore, loses a bit of its impact. If the creators had taken a little more time leading up to the final moment, it would have been truly heartbreaking. The constant voice over is also unnecessary and distracting. The film is too good to use this crutch, and is ultimately cheapened by the voice of death commentating. However, despite these findings, the film has a great message and heart to it.