Star Rating:

The Book Thief

Director: Brian Percival

Actors: Emily Watson

Release Date: Monday 30th November -0001

Genre(s): Drama

Running time: Germany 131 minutes

The Book Thief is in the running for the most dreary movie of the year. While it gets itself in gear towards the end - the pushing of a few emotional buttons was long overdue - the deathly dull story is played out by uninteresting characters in the most boring way.

It doesn't start out that way. We open with Roger Allam's smooth narration navigating us through some dreamy clouds, until the clouds break and a picturesque wintry German landscape unfolds below us, with a train chugging its way through the snow. On this train is the pretty Liesel (Nelisse) who will soon be adopted by the cold Rosa (Watson) and the warm Hans (Rush), a childless couple in pre-WWII Germany. As the illiterate Liesel gets to grips with her new surroundings, Hans takes in Max (Scnetzer), a Jewish fugitive, and hides him in the basement...

It might be pretty to look at but The Book Thief is awash with problems. The language is an issue. At first it looks like half the cast speak English while the other inexplicably speak German (we're given subtitles); you would be forgiven for thinking it's the Nazis and their sympathisers that sprechen sie Deutsche, but that doesn't explain why the SS officer, who comes to inspect Han's basement, speaks English. The acting, outside the charming Nelisse, Rush and Watson, is subpar stuff, while the plot unfolds in an episodic fashion, taking us from 1938 to 1945, removing any immediate threat to Max's discovery. The Allam narration framing device fails to justify its inclusion.

While Rush doesn't stray from his comfort zone - no one does the kind gentleman like Geoffrey Rush – and Watson manages to change from the cold stepmother to the lukewarm mum, it's criminal that we never get to know Max beyond 'sweet Jewish boy'. The entire film is based on a family putting themselves in mortal danger to save this man but he remains a mystery, and not a terribly interesting one. No effort is put into exploring his character, despite Allam's narration (which irritatingly pops up every now and then) telling us that leaving his mother behind to die haunted him. We never see this, however.

There are some nice scenes, like when Max sneaks outside during an air raid one night to feel free for a fleeting moment, but moments like these are few and far between.