Australian author Mark Zusak's novel-turned-motion picture, The Book Thief, spent more than 230 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list and captured numerous "Best Children's Book of the Year" awards. Therefore, you could feel the enthusiasm from the packed house of parents and children all throughout the sizable theatre. And when the film finally concluded, they eagerly voiced their appreciation by erupting into a thunderous applause. However, notice that I said "they".
After Liesel (played by Sophie Nélisse) discovers her first book beside the grave site of her younger brother, she continues on her journey to the heart of Germany to live with a set of foster parents just prior to the start of World War II. Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson) welcome Liesel into their home, where she quickly grows comfortable and eventually learns to read. Time elapses and as World War II gets under way, Hans and Rosa put all of their lives at risk by providing a safe haven for a Jewish refugee named Max.
Director Brian Percival is best known for his pioneer work with the hit drama series Downton Abbey. Yet, with his newest effort, The Book Thief, the filmmaker supplies a bloated story that barely glosses over the cruel and heinous realities of Nazi Germany. Keeping in context the feature's PG-13 rating and its adaptation from a children's novel, one could justify such a sugar-coating. However, Percival's sluggish pacing and exhaustively unentertaining approach counteract The Book Thief's sentimental and endearing qualities. For every compliment there's a detractor, simply reminding that this effort is mired in mediocrity. Furthermore, the lack of development involving the narrator makes for an ineffective inclusion in the film. Having looked into the specifics regarding the book, the narrator becomes a strong central character to the story. While in the film, they provide nothing more then a sporadic voice-over. Illustrating another miss on the part of screenwriter Michael Petroni and director Brian Percival.
Despite the multiple areas where blame can be assigned for all of the movie's shortcomings, acting cannot be one of them. Geoffrey Rush continues his spectacular career with another magical performance as the lovable adoptive father to Liesel. His onscreen significant other, played by Emily Watson, also delivers in a wide-ranging role. In addition to her foster parents, Sophie Nélisse's acting is mightily impressive for a 13 year old girl. Hollywood can safely expect to see plenty more of her in the future. Although The Book Thief is flooded with sound acting, issues surrounding the script and an over-extended running time build too big of a roadblock for the feature to overcome.
With a niche audience that notoriously flocks to movie theatres and a PG-13 rating that caters to their demands, The Book Thief could make a pretty penny if it expands to a wide release. But ultimately, the feature is what it is, an overly long and mildly entertaining fluff piece. Outside of the fantastic performances, there really isn't much else to be seen. Unless you're a faithful fan of the novel, take a pass on The Book Thief.