The Book Thief opens with a voiceover by Death, so you know from the get-go that all is not right with the world, or with the story that’s about to unfold. But it’s not a suffocatingly dark movie. In fact, I tend to describe it as ‘Anne Frank light.’ The central character, Liesel (Sophie Nélisse), is a pretty, spunky, and courageous young girl who’s sent to live with foster parents (Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson) in Nazi Germany in the late 1930s. She becomes obsessed with books, even before she learns to read them. Those books – and the power of words in general – become central to Liesel’s relationship with her foster father and others, including a Jew that the family hides during the height of Hitler’s purge.
The movie is based on a best-selling book by Markus Zusak, so its readers may be more inclined than the mainstream audience to check out the big-screen adaptation. The Book Thief is a decent and well-acted ‘Holocaust’ movie, but it feels a bit too familiar, like we’ve seen it all before in one incarnation or another. And the ending – alternately bleak and hopeful – is unnecessarily and awkwardly drawn out.
It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on the young star Sophie Nélisse. She is definitely a captivating and endearing presence on-screen. She and her co-stars deliver strong performances – showing humor, sarcasm and strength of character – that elevate what might have otherwise been just a so-so movie. However, The Book Thief will be hard-pressed to find much of an audience amid the holiday and award-season cinematic rush. It’s the type of movie that Arty Chick may want to add to her Netflix queue in the months ahead.