Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
November 14, 2013
Zero stars (out of four)
This must be a nightmare: There can’t actually be a cutesy, vapid dramedy set in WWII-era Germany featuring voiceover from Death. With a charming British accent.
Death does not have a charming British accent! He doesn’t comment on how he encounters humans at their best and at their worst (not necessarily true) and that no one served the Fuhrer more loyally than he!
The “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” of Holocaust movies, “The Book Thief,” adapted from Markus Zusak’s novel, is a fantasy, a fairy tale and a crock. Bordering on propaganda, the film is almost completely isolated from the horrors of war. It largely ignores the millions of Jews persecuted and killed, and instead delivers a shameless tear-jerker about a pretty young girl who likes reading, hoping to generate emotion through the collateral damage deaths of a few innocent Germans. And I thought “The Reader” was exploitative.
Pre-teen Liesel (Sophie Nelisse) loses her younger brother and gets turned over to new parents Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson), though she sheds no tears and her adoptive mom can’t understand why her new daughter would be shy and unhappy. Rosa’s harshness exists so Hans can grumble about how his wife won’t keep her yap shut, like some kind of 1950s American sitcom. The main characters almost exclusively speak English, as if “und,” “nein” and “danke schoen” were the only German words at the time.
The script from Michael Petroni (“The Rite”) presents an insultingly smiley character in Max (Ben Schnetzer), the young Jewish man Hans and Rosa hide in their basement. (This leads to the requisite scene of a Nazi officer coming in to search.) Max tells Liesel that words are life, a lesson that appears hollow at every turn. Director Brian Percival doesn’t care about Max’s experience, though, especially proven in the ultimate, detached resolution to the man’s story. All the team behind “The Book Thief”—which gets no points for competent performances—wants is for viewers to grin at moments like Max and Liesel joking about Hitler’s mom scolding him and Liesel and her smitten best friend, Rudy (Nico Liersch), shouting across a lake, “I hate Hitler!” So darling, right?
The film’s title comes from Liesel, who at first can’t read or write but learns very quickly, eventually swiping a few books. She hasn’t thought about what she’s doing or reading, and the few viewers who applauded this offensive Oscar bait clearly hadn’t thought about what they’d seen—unless they were cheering the last of about seven fake endings. I almost booed.
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