How do you please fans of a book which has been in the best seller list for 230 weeks, won 12 awards and have earned the love of many readers? Answer: you do not make a movie out of it.
Directed by Brian Percival, who is best (and only) known for Downton Abbey, this inevitable movie adaptation attempts to visualise the beautifully poetic novel by Markus Zusak and falls short of, to be frank, almost everything.
Firstly, let me scrape off the good bits before devouring this movie with pessimistic appetite. Sophie Nelisse is a great actress and plays the role of Liesel adequately, though I doubt you could find a better actress, except for Chloe Moretz. Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson as Hans and Rosa Hubermann also works quite well. Hans acts as the movie’s ‘comic relief’ while Rosa plays the ‘straight (wo)man’. The costumes are eye-catching and appropriately varied. Music is scored beautifully and suitably. It’s all ‘Book Thief-esque’.
Those who have read the novel would have realised that I have not mentioned two important characters: Rudy Steiner (Rico Liersch) and Max Vandenburg (Ben Schnetzer). That’s because the less I say about them, the better they are. Rudy (or as everyone likes to call him ‘Woody’, ‘Cooty’ or ‘Hoody’) is just atrocious. Every time he appeared in the movie I just wanted to bury my head in my seat and suffocate. His voice was like a broken juice mixer and his acting was so poor I swear a tree frog could do better. His role in the movie was to make Liesel run (for those ‘I’m a happy child’ scenes), as though she was on a strict diet regime. The worst sin, however, would have to be the last scene. Those who have read the book know what I am talking about and I can assure that you will be highly disappointed. It will be unexpected and awful; so awful that it will be hilarious. I do not wish to spoil it but it took me several days to of complaining to come to terms with the fact that Percival may have destroyed one of the saddest scenes ever with his questionable directorial ability. Honestly, it was just pure awfulness. It even made Adam Sandler appealing.
For some reason, Percival thought it was a good idea to cast Max as a German Jew that did not speak German, or have a German accent. In fact, he had an obvious American accent which creates this lingual limbo. Whilst his acting itself was good, it is the director’s directions that made him somewhat lacking. Yes, we see him interacting with Liesel, yes we see him bed-ridden and horrid like a kindergartener; yet his part was not considered as important as the book, which leads to several crucial parts that involves Max to be absent. For those who have read the book, it is a betrayal to the audience; for those who have not read the book, his role is singular.
Finally, as a film about Nazis, the Holocaust and the persecution of the Jews, there are a lot of other great movies (The Pianist, Schindler’s List, Sophie Scholl, Saving Private Ryan, etc) and unfortunately this movie is not as good as them. The lack of ‘persecutions’ or the rawness of human cruelty is missing and instead focuses on the story of Liesel, making the whole movie more ‘family friendly’. Then there’s the ironic cast where most of the main characters are not German. Sophie Nelisse is French (Ha!), Rush is Australian, Watson and Schnetzer are Americans. Thus their German accent is almost too forced and fake that it once again breaks realism.
The Book Thief is a movie where everyone knew what was going to happen; everyone knew that it would not meet the expectations or the true beauty of the original novel and that those who have read the novel will most likely watch it, just out of spite. And as a movie by itself, I do have to say it is nice. It can stand on its own. But when it is an adaptation of a book that is beloved by every English student, then Percival is going to have an angry mob of English students on his doorsteps.
But hey, at least it’s not as awful as Dragonball.