Markus Zusak’s bestselling novel The Book Thief
follows Leisel, an illiterate daughter of communists who is sent to live with caretakers in a German village during World War II. Her sympathetic adoptive father teaches her to read and initiates her into the vivid and polemic world of words, which becomes the central theme of the book. Unfortunately, Brian Percival’s film adaptation, starring Sophie Nélisse as Leisel and Geoffrey Rush as her father, gets bogged down by too many subplots that are never fully fleshed out: Leisel’s relationship with a Jewish boy the family is concealing in the basement, Leisel’s relationship with a young neighbor, Leisel’s relationship with the mayor’s wife. And then there’s the fact that a bemused, chortling Grim Reaper—yes, Grim Reaper—narrates the film, reminding viewers that they “are all going to die one day” in the same tender manner that a parent might tell their children that Santa Claus isn’t real. Indeed, the garish theme of death is too stark a contrast to the warm, fuzzy glimpses of childhood and innocence. The Book Thief
does offer the fresh perspective of German civilians during Hitler’s Third Reich, but for the most part, this is yet another example of a brilliant book falling victim to the big screen.