By Gary Murray

Starring Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson and Sophie Nelisse

Written by Michael Petroni

Based on the book by Markus Zusak

Directed by Brian Percival

Running time 131 min

MPAA Rating PG-13

Selig Film Rating FULL PRICE

It seems that there is an inexhaustible supply of stories concerning WWII.  The battle against Fascism, Social Democracy and Nazism touched every corner of the globe.  There was not a person on the planet that was not affected by some aspect of this conflict. The Book Thief is another story of this time and is one of the best films of 2013

Based on the novel by Markus Zusak, the story takes place in Nazi Germany.  The protagonist is Liesel (Sophie Nelisse), but the film is narrated by Death. 

As the film starts, she watches her brother die on a train.  It is the first of many tragedies that happen in her young life.  Her mother is a communist and is taken in by the Nazis.  On the train trip to her new life, Liesel lifts a book.

Young Liesel is sent to live with Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson).  They take the child in more for the money than for any connection of love.  Liesel does not like her circumstances and keeps hoping and praying for her mother to return to save her.

The girl also meets Rudy (Nico Liersch).  He is smitten with Liesel but even more obsessed by the fastest man on Earth, Jesse Owens.  This does not go over too well with the Nazis.  Rudy takes her to school where she is not accepted.  It is discovered that she can not read or write.

Liesel tries to adjust to the world she lives.  When Hans finds the stolen book, Liesel insists that it is hers.  The book is a grave-diggers manual.  Eventually, Hans and Liesel read the book together.  It is discovered that Hans cannot read that well.  In the basement, Hans sets up a study room for Liesel to learn words. 

One night, the new family hides a Jewish man Max (Ben Schnetzer) from the authorities.  It seems that Hans owns the family a debt from the First World War.  Liesel and the young man bond more like brother and sister.  He helps her read and she steals more books, some from book burnings that happen in the center of town.

The Book Thief does not build in a traditional sense but shows everyday life in the bowels of Nazi Germany.  Along the way, we see the inhumanity of man and the hope of individualism.  It is the story of little moments in survival than a three act structure.  The ending is exactly what one would think would happen in Nazi Germany with a narration by Death, but is still a shock.

Young Sophie Nelisse delivers one of the most impressive acting feats of 2013.  She gives the world a character that is lost in circumstances that she can barely comprehend.  It becomes an overwhelming burden.  But, throughout the performance there are moments of hope.  Whenever she finds that someone has a book, she asks “Did you steal it?” in a precocious manner that endears. 

What can be said about Geoffrey Rush that has not been said a thousand times?  He is one of the best actors on the planet, a much deserved Oscar winner.  Here, he finds humanity in an inhumane world.  His character is a conflicted man, a man who sees right and wrong but is little able to do anything about it.  It is a brilliant reading.

Emily Watson has been giving dazzling performances for years but never seems to get noticed during awards season.  This film should rectify that injustice.  She is tough and moving at the same time.  She is the loving task master, pushing young Liesel to be a better person while never letting up the slack on the girl. 

Director Michael Petroni captures the life of Nazi Germany with painstaking detail.  He doesn’t make all the Germans bad guys.  They are all people, some good and some bad, but all trying to survive.  He gives a slice of live to everyday living in a horrendous situation.

The only part of the film that did not work was the narration.  That omnipresent voice is a heavy handed story-teller who is Death.  I just do not think it works.  The film is powerful enough without that voice beating the point into the ground.  Less would have been so much more.

That aside, The Book Thief is one of the best films of 2013, an Oscar contender for sure.  It has all the elements of a film that will live in the memories of the audience for years to come.  In a world where most films are forgotten entertainment, The Book Thief is a rare gem.

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