Long anticipated, Markus Zusak’s 2005 novel “The Book Thief” is pulsating from the wide screen; it has a certain glitz, fairy -tale, manipulative quality, but if you flow with the fantasy, allow the titillation, ignore the sensationalism, you’ll be enchanted, entertained.
Narrated by the “Grim Reaper” , it’s 1938 Nazi Germany, his gluttonous plate perpetually burgeoning; focuses on the world and lives surrounding “Liesel Meminger” and her adoptive parents “Hans and Rosa Hubermann”. Liesel, (luminous depiction by Sophie Nelisse) at ten, is unable to read, taunted by her classmates, befriended by “Rudy” (engaging, beautiful Nico Liersch). Geoffrey Rush as Hans is touching and sweet, close to the saccharine level; helps Liesel to read and understand the books she acquires clandestinely. Emily Watson, gives another flawless performance, as Rosa; she possesses the grit lacking in Hans, shrewish; her waspish tongue belies a kind heart.
Director Brian Percival, except for a few deviations, stays true to the book, concentrating in tandem on Liesel, and “Max”(Ben Schnetzer) a Jewish refugee, intellectual, secreted for years in the Hubermann basement; he fuels Liesel’s consumptive thirst for books; ignites, inspires her to write what she sees; shows her that words are life; he is her shaman, seer, catalyst, path to enlightenment. Max is the metaphor for all those destined to be destroyed by the heinous, warped philosophy of Hitler and his degenerate devotees.
If death is “haunted by humans”; his exposure solely to lifeless vessels; Liesel’s world is validated by vocabulary, how “words” slosh around in her brain, immigrate to her pen, give birth, credence, sculptural form to a life analyzed and shared.
Lacking the potency of the novel, “The Book Thief” still resonates as a unique, personal story, at a time when humanity was in abeyance; evil reigned.
THREE & 1/2 STARS!!!