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Monday 22 September 2014

War caper fails to steal hearts

Paul Whitington

Published 28/02/2014 | 14:30

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Bookworm: Liesel is taken in by a foster family who teach her to read and thus fuels her book obsession

The book thief (12A, general release, 131 minutes)

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Director: Brian Percival. Stars: Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Barbara Auer. HHHII

Who knew Death was such a windbag? He interjects constantly during the course of this worthy film based on a novel by Markus Zusak, to blather on about what a busy time he had during WW2 and how much various people's souls weighed when he snatched them.

The Book Thief is set in Bavaria in the late 1930s, and stars Sophie Nélisse as Liesel, an unfortunate young girl who's left all alone on the eve of World War Two. She's on a train with her mother and younger brother when the little boy is taken ill and dies. Unable to cope, the woman sends her daughter to live with a foster family in the fictional Bavarian town of Molching. Liesel's first impressions of her new mother are not good, as Rosa Huberman (Emily Watson) is a brusque and sharp-tongued woman.

But her bark turns out to be a lot worse than her bite, and her husband Hans (Geoffrey Rush) is a gentle soul who teaches the illiterate Liesel to read. She soon forms a strong bond with her adoptive father, and develops her love of books by pinching tomes from the library of Molching's Nazi mayor. But this cosy set-up is disrupted by the outbreak of war, and the Hubermans risk everything when they agree to hide a displaced Jewish man in their basement.

Director Brian Percival tells Markus Zusak's story competently but unimaginatively: his film is plodding and lacks a visual spark. The performances are good, especially those of Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson, but The Book Thief adheres too faithfully to its source to amount to anything genuinely interesting.

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