While subjected to the horrors of WWII Germany, young Liesel finds solace by stealing books and sharing them with others. Under the stairs in her home, a Jewish refuge is being sheltered by her adoptive parents.
I have not read Markus Zusak's novel, but after seeing the movie I can only assume that director Brian Percival ('Downton Abbey') and writer Michael Petroni ('The Rite') have done an admirable job adapting it. Though I still believe a movie based on a book needn't be a great adaption in order to be considered a good movie. I got everything I expected, and more from the loveable and whimsical 'Book Thief.'
Yes, it can be argued that the movie treads too lightly when it comes to portraying the horrors of Nazi Germany, but I never felt that way. 'The Book Thief' never purports to be a movie about war, and monsters, but about a young girl living among them. A girl who doesn't understand her surroundings, but recognizes the love of the people around her. Oh sure, it can be interpreted as insipid by some. There are moments in 'The Book Thief' that I find just as cloying as the next person, but on the whole it's a joyful, warm blanket of a film.
Little Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nelisse). Poor, naïve little Liesel. She has the misfortune of living in Germany during a time where children were scarcely allowed to live out their childhoods. Watching groups of Jews being marched down the street by Nazi soldiers was a common sight. Air raid sirens piercing the night sky. Bombers dropping their fatal payloads on neighborhoods below. It's no time for a child to grow up, but somehow tiny, unassuming Liesel makes the best of her meager, and dangerous surroundings.
Liesel is essentially orphaned, as her mother gives her up to be adopted by a German couple. She comprehends little about the mounting war, and the danger Hitler's regime poses. It's always there as a backdrop. Reminding us that while Liesel is a cute distraction, the rest of her world is filled with unimaginable evil.
Shielding Liesel from all that evil is her loving adoptive father Hans Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush). This is Rush's movie essentially. While Sophie Nelisse holds her own as the precocious youngster, Rush, with his grandfatherly presence, is the special center of this movie. Rush embodies the same type of inescapable charm that he possessed in 'The King's Speech.' An infinitely nice person. Someone you'd want as part of the family. Someone you'd feel safe with even though you didn't know him. That's the kind of person Hans Hubermann is, and Rush simply puts it up there on screen. From the first moment he gently helps Liesel out of the car and into his home you know for sure that this man is going to do anything to keep her safe.
Some may deride those moments as cheesy or contrived. I never had any such opinions. If they were, Rush and Nelisse easily mask them, making them appear genuine and full of life. The supporting cast is just as strong. Young Nico Liersch plays Rudy Steiner, Liesel's best friend. The childlike chemistry the two child actors have with one another is one of the many highlights of the film. Emily Watson's turn as Rosa Hubermann, Liesel's stern adoptive mother is another example of a role being tailor-made for the chosen actress.
As Liesel grows, her interest in reading becomes insatiable. A tough hobby in a society where burning books was a national pastime. Yet, through the adversity she finds ways to make her dreams of reading possible. It's a simple story, sure. Is it a bit too sugary at times? Maybe. Never once did I feel manipulated, but maybe that's because I'm a pushover. Whatever the case may be, 'The Book Thief' was one of my favorite surprises of 2013.
Nothing short of spectacular, Fox has given the 1080p transfer of 'The Book Thief' an award-worthy transfer. Though we should all expect a brand-new film to look spectacular on Blu-ray in the first place. Here there is rarely, if anything, to complain about. The color palette may be drowned in dreary browns, blacks, and grays, but these characters are living in dreary times.
Clarity looks great. There isn't an ounce of lost detail here compared to when I saw this film in theaters last year. It looks every bit as beautiful now as it did then. Close-up shots of faces and clothing reveal all sorts of texture. Pores, wool patterns, errant threads. You name it, you can see it. The definition here is exemplary.
Black areas are sufficiently deep. I didn't notice any scenes where crushing was a problem. Many of the show's scenes play out in darkened basements or shadowy surroundings, but even then there is some very refined visuals happening. This is a great looking Blu-ray. Those who are fans of it already are indeed going to be impressed. Those looking for a reason to blind buy it, the demo-worthy visuals may provide you with sufficient motivation to do so.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is another high-quality aspect of this release. While restrained at times, the dialogue-heavy mix still has its moments to show off exactly how well-rounded its surround sound capabilities are.
Dialogue is always concise. Even with the heavy accents words are perfectly intelligible. When the bombings start, and Liesel is hiding in the neighborhood bomb shelter, the rear speakers come to life. The entire soundfield fills with distant explosions and perfectly rumbling LFE. When the bombs aren't dropping the rear channels are still full of quaint neighborhood sounds like kids playing soccer in the streets, and cheering as they find out their country is going to war.
The mix may not be provided as many opportunities as other war films to show off its technical prowess, but when it gets its chance the entire mx really shines.
Deleted Scenes (HD, 7 min.) – A handful of deleted scenes that were rightfully thrown on the cutting room floor.
A Hidden Truth: Bringing 'The Book Thief' to Life (HD, 13 min.) – This is a decent, if not slightly EPK-like, documentary about the making of the film, the casting choices, what went into adapting it, and so on.
Trailer (HD, 2 min.) – A theatrical trailer is included.
'The Book Thief' was a pleasant surprise – at least for me – last year. While it no doubt wanted to be considered awards worthy, the film still pulls some emotional heartstrings, but subtlety enough as to not feel completely manipulative. With such great video and strong audio, 'The Book Thief' is as recommended as they come.