The Book Thief (2013)

(On Cable TV, December 2014) At its most basic level, The Book Thief is about a girl living in a small German town during the Nazi regime: you can predict how well that’s going to go.  But beyond that, it seems as if most of the neat things about the film don’t add much to its foundation.  It’s fascinating, for instance, to discover that the story is narrated by Death itself… except that for all of the added depth that the narration brings (especially during the tacked-on epilogue), it doesn’t have much of an influence over the story itself.  I will gleefully defend any story that takes up reading as its cause… except that it, again, doesn’t seems to do much when set against a backdrop of World-War 2 Nazi Germany.  And yes, it’s great to see WW2 movies… except when it seems to be used to make point made quite eloquently elsewhere already. (Surely I can’t be the only one to have thought about The Reader.) The movie has its strong points: Sophie Nélisse is captivating as the titular heroine, (though there isn’t much book-stealing going on) Geoffrey Rush is warm and likable as the father-figure, while even Emily Watson gets a better role as the film develops her character.  Director Brian Percival ends up packaging a convincing portrait of life under the Nazis.  It’s skilfully made, touches upon many of my own personal leitmotivs… but it seems as if the ending comes too soon, prematurely cutting short a bunch of subplots, making them feel perfunctory or ordinary.  It ends without taking full advantage of its own strengths.  How strange. 

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