December 3, 2013 -- This film is narrated by the voice of mister death. It gives a soft supernatural edge to the horrors of war, as experience by a civilian family in a small German town. Some may not like this balancing act, but I thought this film got the balance just right. The movie is based on a best-selling book of the same name, written by Markus Zusak.
As is often the case, the central character in this film is a writer, young Liesel (played by Sophie Nélisse). As the film opens, she is unable to read or write, and is tormented by school children because of this. Her only friend among the school children is Rudy (Nico Liersch) who lives next door. After her brother dies on the journey to this German town, and her mother is taken away, presumably because she is a Communist, Liesel is taken in by foster parents, Rosa (Emily Watson of “War Horse” and a painter, Hans (Geoffrey Rush of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies).
Rosa has a fierce temper and is very demanding, while Hans is very kind. He teaches Liesel to read and write. He likes to play an accordion. He plays to keep people calm during bombing raids. A stranger comes to stay with the family, Max (Ben Schnetzer). Max is a Jew who ends up hiding from the Nazi authorities and sympathizers in the basement. Max helps Liesel become a writer by encouraging her to use her imagination. When Max becomes ill, Liesel reads books to him.
Liesel cements her reputation as a book thief by breaking in to the Burgermeister's private library and “borrowing” a series of his books to read to Max. Liesel inadvertently causes Rosa to lose the Burgermeister as a customer in her laundry work. Hans gets into trouble trying to defend a local Jew he has known for years from the Nazis. Rosa tells Liesel that she is a lot like Hans. Leisel points out that that is not a bad thing.
As World War II grinds on, the war keeps getting closer. Hans is conscripted into the German Army. The authorities start closing in on Max, forcing him to leave. Soon, the war will arrive at the neighborhood where Rosa and Liesel live. Mister Death (voiced by Roger Allam of “V for Vendetta”) doesn't like his job and sometimes wishes he was human. He is fascinated by Liesel's life and follows her through the years, long after the war is over. The presence of Death, and his detached view of humans, in the story serves to soften the tragic elements of the story.
The acting is superb in this film by both the adults and the children. This is not your standard war film. It is not melodramatic or overly sentimental. Despite the supernatural elements, this story seems very realistic and straightforward. It depicts ordinary people in very difficult circumstances being extraordinarily brave and kind. This is one of the year's best films. It rates an A.
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