This is a children’s novel that talks about skies the colour of Jews. It deals with the horrors of war and the attendant waste of life, and how the human spirit endures through art and kindness. While not whoring out gore (I’m looking at you, Tarantino), it remains a stark, sad book much in the style of Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. It is a book in which Death tries to convince himself that humans are not entirely evil, not entirely worthless.
Why, then, did we get a movie that not only sanitises the Holocaust, but completely fails to elicit any authentic feeling, despite being taken from such superb source material?
The movie adaptation of The Book Thief is not outright awful. It passes the time, true, and as far as production values go, it is a gorgeous movie to look at. Geoffrey Rush is, as always, wonderful, especially as Hans, the affable father. Emily Watson is superb as the rumbling, thunderous Mamma Rosa. But the narrative voice (and the novel’s focaliser) of Death might have been better delivered by Winnie the Pooh. The voice lacked the ancient gravity such a role requires, and the narrative was disjointed and absent when it was most needed. Why not have Alan Rickman voice Death? It was a superb narrative structure for the book, but it worked only because of the snippets in the book. The movie could have done without it.
Never mind the uneven accents, the failure to draw the various threads together, or even the drippy sentimentalism when the book spares none – this movie was so safe. None of the performances were challenging (the great love between Rudy and Liesel never made it off the pages), the Nazis were mildly annoyed landlords and everything is wrapped up in a few fuzzy montages at the end. I haven’t seen such lazy filmmaking since Vanilla Ice’s first music video. How can a movie about Nazis, war, and the most horrific suffering be so very neat and tidy?
This is blatant Oscar bait without being Oscar-worthy. It takes superb source material, one of the most important books written for children in the last ten years, and turns it into a white bread cucumber sandwich with the crusts cut off. It is technicolor sentimentalism of the worst order, and has no place imitating a book of far superior depth and ambition.
In the age of superb book to movie adaptations (Catching Fire, The Shawshank Redemption, The Wolf of Wall Street, Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (not the American version) Harry Potter – The Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows etc), I refuse to believe that an adaptation has to be inferior. My favourite book of all time was adapted into my favourite movie of all time (which is Fight Club, as everyone knows) – the right director and the right scriptwriter can do wonders with books. To turn in such underachieving, dull work is an affront not only to the lovers of the book, but to moviegoers in general.
PS: There’s a terrible placement for Apple in the movie. It made me throw up in my mouth, a little.