The Book Thief (film)

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The Book Thief
A man being hugged by a girl, behind them a pile of books is on fire.
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Brian Percival
Produced by
  • Karen Rosenfelt
  • Ken Blancato
Screenplay by Michael Petroni
Based on The Book Thief 
by Markus Zusak
Starring
Narrated by Roger Allam
Music by John Williams[1]
Cinematography Florian Ballhaus
Edited by John Wilson
Production
  company
Sunswept Entertainment
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s)
Running time 125 minutes[2]
Country United States
Germany
Language English
German
Budget $19 million[3]
Box office $76,586,316[4]

The Book Thief is a 2013 American-German war drama film directed by Brian Percival and starring Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, and Sophie Nélisse. Based on the novel of the same name by Markus Zusak and adapted by Michael Petroni, the film is about a young girl living with her adoptive German family during the Nazi era. Taught to read by her kind-hearted foster father, the girl begins "borrowing" books and sharing them with the Jewish refugee being sheltered by her foster parents in their home. The film features a musical score by Oscar-winning composer John Williams.

The Book Thief premiered at the Mill Valley Film Festival on October 3, 2013, and was released for general distribution in the United States on November 8, 2013. The film received mixed reviews upon its theatrical release with some reviewers praising its "fresher perspective on the war" and its focus on the "consistent thread of humanity" in the story,[5] while other critics faulting the film's "wishful narrative".[6] With a budget of $19 million,[3] the film was successful at the box office, earning over $76 million.[4]

The Book Thief received Academy Award, Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations for its score. For her performance in the film, Sophie Nélisse won the Hollywood Film Festival Spotlight Award, the Satellite Newcomer Award, and the Phoenix Film Critics Society Award for Best Performance by a Youth in a Lead or Supporting Role – Female. The film was released on Blu-ray and DVD on March 11, 2014.[7]

Plot[edit]

In April 1938, a voice representing Death (Roger Allam) tells about how the young Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nélisse) has piqued his interest. Liesel is traveling on a train with her mother (Heike Makatsch) and younger brother when her brother dies. At his burial she picks up a book that has been dropped by his graveside (a gravedigger's manual). Liesel is then delivered to foster parents Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson) Hubermann because her mother, a Communist, is fleeing Germany. When she arrives, Liesel makes an impression on a neighboring boy, Rudy Steiner (Nico Liersch).

Rudy accompanies her on her first day of school. When the teacher asks Liesel to write her name on the chalkboard, she is only able to write three "X"s, showing that she doesn't know how to read. Later that day, she is taunted by her schoolmates who chant "dummkopf" ("fool" in German) at her. One of the boys, Franz Deutscher, challenges her to read just one word to which Liesel responds by beating him up. She impresses Rudy, and they become fast friends. When Hans, her foster father, realizes that Liesel cannot read, he begins to teach her, using the book that she took from the graveside. Liesel becomes obsessed with reading anything she can get her hands on.

Liesel and Rudy become members of the Hitler Youth movement. While at a Nazi book burning ceremony, Liesel and Rudy are bullied into throwing books onto the bonfire by Franz, but Liesel is upset to see the books being burned. When the bonfire ends, and everyone but she has left, she grabs a book that has not been burned. She is seen by Ilsa Hermann (Barbara Auer), the mayor's (Rainer Bock) wife. Hans discovers that she has taken the book and tells her she must keep it a secret from everyone. One day, Rosa asks Liesel to take the laundry to the mayor's house. Liesel realizes that the woman who saw her taking the book is the mayor's wife, and she is scared she will be found out. Instead, Ilsa takes her into their library and tells Liesel she can come by anytime and read as much as she'd like. Liesel also finds out about Johann here, who was the son of Ilsa and is now missing. Ilsa feels the loss of her son profoundly and has kept his library intact to commemorate him. One day Liesel is found reading by the mayor who not only puts a stop to her visits but dismisses Rosa as their laundress. Liesel continues to "borrow" books from the mayor's library by climbing through a window.

There is a night of violence against the Jews (known historically as Kristallnacht). Max Vandenburg (Ben Schnetzer) and his mother, who are Jewish, are told by a friend that one of them (but only one) can escape, and Max's mother forces him to go. Max goes to the Hubermanns' house where Rosa and Hans give him shelter. Max is the son of the man who saved Hans's life in World War I. Max is initially allowed to stay in Liesel's room while recovering from his trip, and they begin to become friends over their mutual hatred of Hitler since Liesel blames Hitler for taking her mother away. World War II begins, initially making most of the children in Liesel's neighborhood very happy. Max is later moved to the basement so that he can move around more, but it is colder in the basement, and Max becomes dangerously ill. Liesel helps Max recover by reading to him with every spare moment.

One day while borrowing a book from the mayor's home, Liesel is followed by Rudy. He discovers the secret of the books and also the secret of Max, whose name he reads on a journal Max gave to Liesel for Christmas. Rudy guesses that her family is hiding someone, and he swears to never tell anyone. Franz overhears Rudy's last words of keeping it a secret. Franz violently pushes Rudy to reveal the secret, but Rudy throws the journal into the river to keep it away from Franz. However, after Franz has gone, Rudy plunges into the icy river to rescue the journal, and Liesel realizes that she can truly trust him. Soon a local party member comes by to check the Hubermanns' basement, and they have to hide Max. However, they are told that their basement was being checked as a potential bomb shelter and realize they weren't suspected of harboring a fugitive.

While working one day, Hans sees a neighbor and friend being taken away by the police because he is a Jew. Hans tries to tell the police that the man is a good German, and the man says his son is in the war fighting for Germany, but he is dragged off nonetheless, and Hans's name is taken by the soldiers. Hans realizes what a mistake he has made since this has made them visible. He tells the family, and Max realizes he must leave in order to protect them. Hans then receives a telegram that he has been conscripted into the army and must leave immediately.

On the way home from school one day, Liesel believes she has seen Max in a line of Jews marching through town on their way to a death camp, and she begins screaming his name, running through the line. She is thrown off the street twice by a German soldier and finally relents when Rosa picks her up and takes her home. Within a few days, Hans returns from the front because he was injured by a bomb that hit his unit's truck.

The family is reunited only for a short time. One night the city is bombed by accident, and the air raid sirens fail to go off. Hans, Rosa, and Rudy's family (except for his father who has also been conscripted into the army) are killed in the blast. Liesel was spared from the bombing because she fell asleep in the basement while writing in the journal given to her by Max. Rudy is brought out of his house by neighbors, and he is barely alive. He begins to tell Liesel that he loves her, but he dies before he can finish the sentence. Liesel begs him not to die, telling him that she will give him that kiss he has been asking for and actually kisses him, but he has already died. During this scene, Death is heard speaking again about how he received the souls of the dead. Liesel passes out, and one of the soldiers carries her to a stretcher. When she wakes up, she sees a book among the rubble and picks it up. She then sees the mayor and Ilsa drive up. With Ilsa being the only friend she has left, Liesel runs up to her and hugs her.

Two years later, Liesel is in the tailor shop owned by Rudy's father, and she sees Max enter. Overjoyed by his survival and return, she runs to hug him. The final scene is Death speaking again about Liesel's life and her death at the age of 90, mentioning her husband, children, and grandchildren, as we look over her modern day Manhattan Upper East Side apartment with pictures of her past and a portrait of her, upon which the camera lingers. The narrator does not state whom she married but implies that she became a writer. Death says that he has seen many good and bad things over the years, but Liesel is one of the few who ever made him wonder how it would be to live life. But in the end, there were no words, only peace. Death says that the only truth it knows is true is that he is "haunted by humans".

Cast[edit]

  • Geoffrey Rush as Hans Hubermann, Liesel's kind-hearted foster father
  • Sophie Nélisse as Liesel Meminger, the titular "book thief"
  • Emily Watson as Rosa Hubermann, Liesel's bad-tempered foster mother
  • Ben Schnetzer as Max Vandenburg, a Jewish refugee staying with the Hubermanns
  • Nico Liersch as Rudy Steiner, Liesel's best friend and love interest
  • Sandra Nedeleff as Sarah
  • Hildegard Schroedter as Frau Becker
  • Rafael Gareisen as Walter Kugler, Max's best friend
  • Gotthard Lange as the gravedigger
  • Godehard Giese as the policeman on the train
  • Roger Allam as Death, the film's narrator
  • Oliver Stokowski as Alex Steiner, Rudy's father
  • Barbara Auer as Ilsa Hermann, the mayor's wife
  • Heike Makatsch as Liesel's mother
  • Levin Liam as Franz Deutscher, bully and leader of Rudy's Hitler Youth squad
  • Carina Wiese as Barbara Steiner, Rudy's mother

Production[edit]

A search for an actress to play the eponymous book thief, Liesel Meminger, occurred across the world. On February 4, 2013, it was announced that Canadian actress Sophie Nélisse was cast in the role and that Australian actor Geoffrey Rush and English actress Emily Watson would be playing Meminger's foster parents.[8]

Principal photography began in early March 2013 at Babelsberg Studio in Potsdam-Babelsberg, Germany.[9] The first trailer was released on August 21.[10]

Markus Zusak, Australian author of the best selling, award-winning book on which the film is based, confirmed on his blog that the film would be narrated by the character of "Death", as was the novel.[11] Fans theorized that Death might be voiced by the anonymous American actor that was used in the official trailer. It was then announced that English actor Roger Allam of Game of Thrones would portray Death in the film.

Soundtrack[edit]

The music for the film was composed by John Williams, and the soundtrack album containing the score was released by Sony Classical. The album was released in the United States on November 19, 2013.[12] It was nominated for an Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe for Best Original Score.

The Book Thief marked the first time since 2005 that Williams has scored a film not directed by Steven Spielberg.

Release[edit]

Originally scheduled for January 17 2014, The Book Thief's limited theatrical release was moved forward to November 8, 2013, due to the fact that it was finished ahead of schedule and in order to compete in the 2013–14 award season. It premiered at the Mill Valley Film Festival on October 3, 2013, and was screened at the Savannah Film Festival on October 29, 2013. It expanded to a wide release on November 27, 2013.

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

The Christian Science Monitor reported that reviews were "middling".[13] The movie currently holds a score of 7.8 on IMDb. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 46%, based on 134 reviews, with an average score of 5.6/10. The site's consensus states, "A bit too safe in its handling of its Nazi Germany setting, The Book Thief counters its constraints with a respectful tone and strong performances."[14] On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 based on reviews from critics, the film has a score of 53 (indicating "mixed or average reviews") based on 31 reviews.[15]

In her review for the New Empress Magazine, Mairéad Roche praised the film for providing a "fresher perspective on the war" through the experiences of ordinary Germans who lived through the Nazi era.[5] In addition to the "Oscar-baiting beautiful" cinematography and John Williams's film score that contribute to the film's emotional appeal, Roche singled out the performance of young Sophie Nélisse as Liesel that "matches the well-measured and seemingly effortless efforts of both Rush and Watson".[5] Roche concluded,

The Book Thief weaves a consistent thread of humanity through its narrative via the commonality of Death, storytelling and the concept of free will. The disturbing sight of children in Hitler Youth uniforms and Allied blanket bombing, when shown through the innocence of a child, humanises the German generation just living their lives without the hindsight of history. A blurring of vision due to tears is to be expected, but that effect is delivered with respect and dignity to the audience.[5]

In his review following the Mill Valley Film Festival, Dennis Harvey at Variety magazine wrote, "Rush generously provides the movie's primary warmth and humor; Watson is pitch-perfect as a seemingly humorless scold with a well-buried soft side."[16] Harvey also praised the film's cinematography and film score, noting that "impeccable design contributions are highlighted by Florian Ballhaus'[s] somber but handsome widescreen lensing and an excellent score by John Williams that reps his first feature work for a director other than Steven Spielberg in years."[16]

In her review for "MSN UK", Emma Roberts gave the film 5 out of 5 stars, stating,

With incredible acting, a gripping story and fantastic direction, "The Book Thief" is a heart-warming yet chilling tale, which will nestle in your mind long after the credits finish rolling.

Stephanie Merry of The Washington Post was less impressed with the film, giving it two and half out of four stars. Merry felt that the film "has its moments of brilliance, thanks in large part to an adept cast" but that the film ultimately shows the difficulties of bringing a successful novel to the screen.[16] In his review for the Los Angeles Times, Robert Abele was also unimpressed, describing the film as "just another tasteful, staid Hollywoodization of terribleness, in which a catastrophic time acts as a convenient backdrop for a wishful narrative rather than the springboard for an honest one".[6]

Accolades[edit]

Award Category Nominee Result
AACTA International Awards[17] Best Supporting Actor Geoffrey Rush Nominated
Academy Awards[18] Best Original Score John Williams Nominated
British Academy Film Awards[19] Best Film Music Nominated
Critics' Choice Movie Awards Best Young Actor/Actress Sophie Nélisse Nominated
Golden Globe Awards[20] Best Original Score John Williams Nominated
Hollywood Film Awards Spotlight Sophie Nélisse Won
Phoenix Film Critics Society Best Performance by a Youth in a Lead or Supporting Role – Female Won
Satellite Awards Best Supporting Actress Emily Watson Nominated
Best Original Score John Williams Nominated
Newcomer Sophie Nélisse Won
Young Artist Awards[21] Best Leading Young Actress in a Feature Film Won

Home media[edit]

The Book Thief was released on Blu-ray and DVD on March 11, 2014.[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "John Williams to Score ‘The Book Thief’". Film Music Reporter. August 6, 2013. Retrieved August 6, 2013. 
  2. ^ "The Book Thief (12A)". 20th Century Fox. British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved November 8, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b "The Book Thief". The Numbers. January 5, 2014. Retrieved January 6, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b "The Book Thief". Box Office Mojo. February 6, 2014. Retrieved February 10, 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d Roche, Mairéad (February 28, 2014). "In Review: The Book Thief". New Empress Magazine. Retrieved March 27, 2014. 
  6. ^ a b Abele, Robert (November 8, 2013). "Review: 'The Book Thief' robs the truth from an evil time". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 23, 2014. 
  7. ^ a b "The Book Thief (2013): Releases". AllMovie. Retrieved March 27, 2014. 
  8. ^ Kit, Borys (February 4, 2013). "Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson to Star in 'The Book Thief' Movie (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 6, 2013. 
  9. ^ Roxborough, Scott (March 11, 2013). "'The Book Thief' Begins Shooting in Germany". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 6, 2013. 
  10. ^ Video on YouTube
  11. ^ http://zusakbooks.tumblr.com/post/58924637693/first-book-thief-trailer-the-girl-the-books
  12. ^ http://filmmusicreporter.com/2013/10/19/the-book-thief-soundtrack-details/
  13. ^ Driscoll, Molly (November 8, 2013). "'The Book Thief' movie adaptation receives middling reviews". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved January 14, 2014. 
  14. ^ https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_book_thief/
  15. ^ http://www.metacritic.com/movie/the-book-thief/
  16. ^ a b c Harvey, Dennis (October 4, 2013). "Film Review: ‘The Book Thief’". Variety Magazine. Retrieved February 23, 2014. 
  17. ^ Kemp, Stuart (13 December 2013). "'American Hustle' Dominates Australian Academy's International Award Noms". The Hollywood Reporter (Prometheus Global Media). Retrieved 1 January 2014. 
  18. ^ "Nominees for the 86th Academy Awards". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. January 16, 2014. Retrieved January 16, 2014. 
  19. ^ Reynolds, Simon; Harris, Jamie (January 8, 2014). "BAFTA Film Awards 2014 – nominations in full". Digital Spy. Retrieved January 8, 2014. 
  20. ^ "Golden Globes Nominations: The Full List". Variety. January 11, 2014. Retrieved March 10, 2014. 
  21. ^ "35th Annual Young Artist Awards". Young Artist Awards. Retrieved April 14, 2014. 

External links[edit]