In Brian Percival's adaptation of Markus Zusak's novel, young Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) is sent to live with adoptive parents (Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson) in a small German town in 1938. Life quickly gets messy: The family hides a Jewish refugee; war begins; and privation and hardship pile up. Liesel finds an escape in books, and her love of the written word both sustains and endangers her.
The film doesn't offer anything new on the much-documented Holocaust experience, and perhaps due to its origins as a young-adult novel, much of it feels perfunctory rather than provocative. It's meant to be an emotional experience, but when a film is narrated by Death as this one is, it does take some of the shock out of it. Which of these poor souls will be untimely claimed?
Even more distracting for me was how the actors inexplicably speak English with a German accent. This had the unfortunate effect of making everything sound like a silly skit. Even more baffling, some characters do speak German, with subtitles, and books are shown in both languages. There was so little nuance in this film — there are good Germans and bad Germans — that I wondered why the filmmaker just couldn't pick one side for language.