The Book Thief ★★★

The Book Thief weaves a compelling story, and occasionally rises to the level it seeks to lock into. But it can never quite stay in that groove, mostly because it seems at odds with itself.

Passable performances by the two main child actors (Sophie Nélisse and Nico Liersch) and solid ones by its adults (Geoffrey Rush, obviously, and Heike Makatsch too) are often undone by risk-less, even obvious, dialogue and a weak and poorly realized cast of supporting characters.

The scope of the war is sort of present - with mentions of at least Britain’s involvement - which doesn't in itself add any gravity to the situation these characters find themselves in. It's only in our understanding of history and how the war played out that we have an understanding of the scope of this story, and how grave the burgeoning Nazi party is. That would be okay if it could find something harrowing - or at least remotely exciting - to cling to. Instead, it doesn't seem concerned in this regard beyond self-serving red herrings in its plot.

Even the very notion of death - which serves as a literal overseer of the story's events - is marginalized, presumably to lower the rating level of the film. The rather crippling foreshadowing on display and a diminished amount of bodily damage may play well with the ratings board, but it does remarkably little for impact.

In the end, though, it's still a good film, and there's many worthwhile moments that do stack up to something. I'm just not sure what that something is. I can't help but feel that this adaptation was either done poorly, or that telling the story this way shines a light on all of its problems.