On a train ride to a new life, 10-year old Liesel looks at her mother cradling her younger brother and makes a horrible discovery; her sibling has stopped breathing. Later, at a quickie funeral, Liesel snatches up a tiny black book a gravedigger left behind on the snowy ground. The thing is, she can't read. And that is just the beginning of her hurdles. She also can't stay with her communist-supporting mother so she ends up with a new momma and poppa.
In Nazi Germany.
Based on the international bestselling book by Markus Zusak, The Book Thief follows the journey of an extraordinary, spirited young girl. As she gets to know her new parents and a secret guest that lives in the basement, Liesel learns to read, and as the title promises, steals a bunch of books!
Make no mistake; this story about the horrors of fascism is focused solely on the life of a child. As such, the tone is more wide-eyed Bridge to Terabithia than grim Schindler's List. A genuine innocence flows through the entire film. Get ready for tears, yes, but lots of joy too.
Here are five ways this WWII flick ain't just for kids:
1. Newcomer Sophie Nélisse Impresses as Liesel. 13-year-old Nélisse has a determination rarely seen in such a young thespian. Liesel starts off understandably guarded in the first half, but soon warms to her new papa (played by the immensely likeable Geoffrey Rush). Later, she makes friends with a fellow book nerd, the wife of the town's main Nazi official. And it must have been fate that the woman first spotted Liesel at their village's book burning. Liesel ends up snatching one up as it still smolders! Through it all Nélisse keeps us invested.
2. The Charming Narrator Is Death. Englishman Roger Allam is never seen, but his soothing voice makes for quite the casual grim reaper. He notes early on that WWII kept him quite busy. The novel was also narrated by Death. Often, voice over can be rather generic, but Allam's observations on future victims like the ones who are cruel to Liesel are inspired.
3. Even in Nazi Germany There's Time to be a Kid. Liesel is quickly befriended by her neighbor Rudy (Nico Liersch). A charming little tyke, he gradually pushes her out of her protective shell. Their parents have bigger concerns (obviously), but a moment at a nearby lake to pronounce "I hate Hitler!" is at once, silly and extremely heartfelt.
4. Read a Book! As Liesel learns to read and write, her basement walls become filled with all sorts of words categorized by the first letter ("S is for Stormtrooper"). Max (Ben Schnetzer), a young Jewish man in hiding, becomes her surrogate older bother. He inspires Liesel to absorb all the literary greats. Her first book was that guide to grave digging. No doubt a real page-turner.
5. Awards Odds. Ever since the Academy expanded the possible number of best picture nominations to ten films that probably wouldn't have made the cut before, these movies have become contenders: The Help, The Blind Side, even District 9. Surely there's a place for a film that's aimed at younger audiences, right? We hope so.