The best thing, worst thing, and main thing about “The Book Thief” in about the time it takes to watch the trailer. Don’t forget, first person to guess my “Best Ever Challenge” gets the point!
Sometimes setting your movie in nazi germany isnt enough. Sometimes you actually have to tell an interesting story.
“The Book Thief” is another year end Oscar contender starring Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson as the adoptive parents of a Russian girl in Nazi Germany, and the way the war impacts their lives and relationships. The story comes from a best selling young adult novel of the same name and though I hate to say it, maybe this is a story that should have stayed on the page. Some books just don’t translate well to the screen and this just may be one of them. There’s just so much of this movie that failed to connect for me.
Let’s start with the narrator, who in this case is a wise cracking version of the angel of death. Though I’m sure the premise of having death narrate your tale is captivating and clever in the novel, in the movie it’s a jarring experience to have this supernatural narration in an otherwise grounded tale. Every time the narration kicked in, I felt like I was in a different movie, though I’m sure the filmmakers felt handcuffed to the idea as it was likely such a large part of why people liked the book. But as far as I’m concerned it just didn’t work on screen. Another disconnect was in the way the movie handled language. It got very confusing why the characters were speaking and writing in English and then every once and a while were tossing out German words or songs. Again, the story is so tied to the theme of the written word that I understand why it was a difficult transition, but it made it so much harder to buy into what was happening. It’s as if the movie couldn’t help but remind me every once in a while that this wasn’t a real world despite desperately trying to convince me of that in so many of the other moments. The worst part is that I didn’t even find the theme about words and the way we use them to be fully understandable or cohesive, which is a problem when the emotion of your movie rests on conveying that theme. All of that disconnect ends up making what should be a powerful setting, seem mundane and even boring. Which is really sad because it wastes some really good performances.
The man girl, I think her name is Sophie Nilesse has a really great screen presence and joy to her and Geoffrey Rush, who I think is the best thing about the movie, is stunning on screen as a man dealing with what it means to be a human being in Nazi Germany. And to be honest, even though I got lost in the metaphor a bit I know there is something valuable here about using our words to write life instead of death. I just wish they had found a way to translate that message in a more comprehensible way.
At the end of the day I get the sense that “The Book Thief” is a wonderful novel with some interesting and compelling ways to communicate it’s story. If only the movie version could have stolen some of that life, maybe it wouldn’t have seemed so dull and unmoving. I give it a C.
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