The Book Thief
Director: Brian Percival
Writer: Michael Petroni
Based on: Markus Zusak’s novel
Cast: Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Nico Liersch, Ben Schnetzer, Roger Allam, Heike Makatsch, Barbara Auer
Death (Roger Allam) tells the story of the Book Thief: Liesel (Sophie Nélisse), a young girl who, after the death of her brother, gets dropped off by her mother (Heike Makatsch) with a foster family (Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson). While World War II takes Liesel’s surroundings in Bavaria and her foster parents hide a Jew, Max (Ben Schnetzer), in their basement, she and her best friend Rudy (Nico Liersch) are more taken with a little mischief. And Liesel is inexorably drawn to books, even when or maybe especially when she has to steal them.
I really loved the book but unfortunately that did not extend to the film. Weird accents, unfortunate plot changes and quite generally lengths overshadowed the film’s qualities for me.
It might seem narrow and nitpicking but the way the movie handled language continuously disturbed me and I think that it’s the main reason the film didn’t work for me. If you have to choose English-speaking actors for a film set in Germany and have them speak English with each other, please, for the love of what’s holy to you, DO NOT GIVE THEM GERMAN ACCENTS. Unfortunately that is a rather common cinematic device (that I hate with the heat of a thousand burning suns) but rarely have I seen it handled as hamfistedly as in this film.
If it had only been an accent and the occasional word, I might have been able to live with it. But unfortunately they decided to go with the “strong accent and substitute as many English words as you possibly can with their German translation and still have people understand it” route. And that was motherfucking painful, especially to a German native speaker like me.
Plus, it made the generally excellent performances seem ridiculous. Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson were awesome and Sophie Nélisse wasn’t bad either. But instead of enjoying their performances, I wanted to slap the German out of them for most of the film. Which is probably also the reason why I couldn’t really get into the film and when it was finally over, I wasn’t touched by the ending, I didn’t feel with the characters, I just thought everything was ridiculous and overwritten.
The movie does have its qualities. It looks great. It’s still a good story. I love the characters. Roger Allam was fantastic (also didn’t have a German accent). But compared to my annoyance, those qualities pale and disappear into nothingness.
Summarizing: what a waste.