- a girl,
- an accordionist,
- some fanatical Germans,
- a Jewish fist fighter
- and quite a lot of thievery.
I saw the book thief three times.
Those are the opening words of the book the film is based on, and it is probably the best TL;DR description of the plot (except the thieving part which was cut down significantly). Basically Death is reflecting on his work in Europe from 1938 to 1945 while telling the story of a girl growing up in Nazi Germany whose soul he just collected in the mid '00.
I’ve heard this called baby’s first Holocaust film and sadly it’s an accurate label – on one hand it can be forgiven as it is about a child growing up in Nazi Germany during the Second World War who only catches the occasional glimpse of the horrors and crimes committed under the Fuhrer's reign. Liesel, despite both parents being “disappeared” and her foster parents hiding a Jew in the basement, lives a relatively normal life – stealing aside. She learns to read under the tutelage of her Foster Father and finds her story tellers voice as the Allies begin to bomb the crap out of Germany.
On the other hand, the book was told entirely from Deaths unique if rather busy perspective. While he remains as the narrator in the film his voice used sparingly – imagine if in Lord of the Rings if Gandalf had five minutes of screen time. Death and his view of the holocaust and war (in Deaths own words, “business was booming”), is cut criminally short and some of the most significant and dark parts of the book are omitted, probably to retain the PG rating.
Not to mention the ham fisted way the film handles the fates of many of those on Himmel Street.
Book lover nit picking aside, The Acting is suburb - Rush and Watson go beyond perfect casting as they take the role of the Hubermanns, a mismatched pair if there ever was one. Watson pulls off the tough as nails curse loving Rosa perfectly to a tee, while Rush can only be described as sublime as he plays the aging German accordionist. Newcomer Sophie Nélisse puts in a solid effort, but is ultimately overshadowed by the heavy weights. The cinematography is also excellent bordering on breathtaking.
Ultimately this film is let down for me by treating a terrible time in history with such a light touch when the book hit you in the gut, hard, then kicked you while you were down repeatedly. Hopefully there is a directors cut out there which has all of Deaths scenes cut side by side with the revelry on Himmel Street.
TL;DR - Read the book.