Film Review: The Book Thief

It’s been a very long time since I’ve come home from the cinema feeling as dejected and disappointed about a film as I do right now. Even The Monuments Men left me feeling better than this. There was just so much promise to The Book Thief that to have been let down this badly just feels almost unforgivable. Based on the novel by Markus Zusak and with a trailer that promised so much, that to me, promised a deep harrowing tale, to receive this as the end product, the final movie, is actually proving hard to put into words just how far the fall from grace, from the pedestal I created has been.

I had seen and heard reviews in the run up to getting to see it that it wasn’t as good as it should have been. There had been a familiar thread to opinion that implied that’d taken a 9 out of 10 book and turned it into a 5 out of 10 film. But I was hoping that it was just another case of a film, like The Railway Man for instance, which is draws upon a book for it’s inspiration rather than relying on it to provide every last detail and that as a result, both become virtually incomparable to each other but both able to stand on their own two feet.

Sadly though, this isn’t the case. The Book Thief really is just a 5 out of 10 film. Every turn it makes just drops it lower and lower into more problems. Firstly, the book is narrated by Death and while this is carried over into the film, Death is used fleetingly throughout. Breaking up any rhythm or flow to its narration. Instead of leading you through the story, Death becomes more of a confusing distraction that serves to muddy the waters of the plot twisting it in directions that feels unnatural to the organic route it seems to want to take.

Then there is the portrayal of time throughout the film. Both in terms of cinematography and plot. The film 130 minutes long but feels a lot, lot longer. Everything slowly ticks along dragging out every tick every tock. Never picking up, never slowing down. Just tick, tock, tick, tock, until you actually look at your watch to see how much more of this you have left to take. And this monotony is combined to a cast that as the world advances through the long years of war around them never appear to age. They say they age but they never appear to. Nothing takes its toll on them, no wrinkles, no dirt, no growing up. The only way you can tell time is actually progressing is through the on screen subtitles telling you.

The biggest problem I have with the film though is its plot. Nothing happens. This film has no depth. It has no emotion, no character and no strength. As with time, the story just ticks by never going anyway, never doing anything. The trailer makes out that this is a harrowing tale of Nazi persecution, and the destruction of culture but it just isn’t. It’s just a slow plod and with no sense of a first person, with no real idea who’s story we are watching, who’s eyes are showing us this world, you never feel any involvement to the film. Beforehand, I’d heard a review complaining that John Williams’ accompanying soundtrack was overly simplistic. That essentially it did nothing more than reinforce the senses you should be taking from the scenes. It’s happy when they’re happy; it’s sad when they are sad and it’s sombre when they’re dead. I’d take it one step further though. Without John Williams’ use of an orchestra to tell you how to feel I doubt you’d draw any emotion at all from the film what so ever. It certainly doesn’t reinforce anything because there is nothing to start with.

The biggest problem the critics have with the film though, and I fall onto both sides of the argument, is the films use of language and speech. Essentially the leading roles are taken by an Australian, a Britain and a French-Canadian. So we’ll make them all speak with a German accent, but we’ll script it in English, but to remind people this is Nazi Germany will lob the odd German word or phrase it. Can I explain why? Nein, I’m afraid I can’t. Just add it this list of things that are wrong with this film.

I’d have been looking forward to The Book Thief for months, and yet now that I’ve seen it I can’t believe I have waiting with such anticipation. They say “Never meet your heroes” and for me, The Book Thief has once again been a case of “Never put all your hopes onto a trailer” because sadly, as too often is the case, they have teased a trailer that void of, and defying any, resemblance of the finished film and left me feeling almost cheated.

I wish I could find a positive hidden in the darkness that clouds my view of the film now but sadly I can’t. They said it was only a 5 out of 10 film and unfortunately, they were spot on.

5 out of 10 stars (5 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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