Screenwriter Michael Petroni adapts Markus Zusak's The Book Thief to create a film that is triumphant, tragic and visually stunning. Of course movies are never exactly like the book, however this one feels very true to Zusak's extraordinary vision. With the help of Downton Abbey director Brian Percival, this film will give you an up-close and personal view of the worst, and best, of humanity.
While Death is still the story’s eerie narrator, it’s British actor Roger Allam, known for movies like The Queen and The Iron Lady, who does the voice of the grim reaper with a heart, adding just the right amount of foreboding, darkly twisted irony and occasional humor.
Max (Ben Schnetzer) is still a Jewish man who hides in the Hubermann’s basement, but his dreams of being a boxer have been cut from the story. His relationship with Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) is incredibly dynamic as the two really bond over words, but there are no dreams of him fighting the führer in a boxing ring.
In the movie, the adorable yellow-haired Rudy (Nico Liersch), accidentally discovers the existence of Max when he sees Max’s handwritten name in a book of Liesel’s. Having the boy discover this while Max is still living in the basement adds tension to the story and further demonstrates the emotional burdens the war put onto children. It also bonds the two young souls of Rudy and Liesel, making the ending of the film just gut wrenching.
The two adult children of Hans and Rosa Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson), have been nixed from the story. In the book, Hans, Jr. argues with his father about his failure to join the Nazi Party and suggests Liesel should be reading Mein Kamph. These periphery characters are not missed in the film, however. Various other Nazi characters build up the tension that eventually forces Hans, Sr. to join the Nazis before being forced to go off to fight for them.
In the book, the mayor and his wife, Ilsa Hermann (Barbara Auar), discontinue the laundry services of Rosa Hubermann because they want to project an image that they are belt-tightening. It’s handled a bit differently in the film, as the mayor appears to be attempting to control, possibly hoping to protect, his wife’s emotional state-of-mind as he sees the bond that is growing between Ilsa and Liesel.
Also, Liesel doesn’t yell a rant or throw a book at Ilsa when she is told she’ll no longer be delivering the washing. This was probably changed to keep Liesel more likable and help the audience feel relieved when Ilsa comes for Liesel at the end of the movie.
In the book, Hans gives some bread to a Jew as he is being marched through the town. Both Hans and the Jew are whipped by a Nazi officer. In the movie, the scene is less physically violent in that instead of getting a whipping, Hans must tell the officer his name, which the officer writes down, creating fear and paranoia in Hans’ mind. It is this act that causes Hans to have Max leave the basement.
Don't be a saumensch! Go see The Book Thief when it opens in theaters Nov. 8th.
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