I read this book last year and completely fell in love with it. It was recommended to me by my dad to whom I am very grateful for bringing me into such an amazing world. Since I have only really been reading books for the last 2 and a bit years (horrific I know, I was just never interested before), this is the first book to film adaption that I have had the terrifying privilege of anticipating. I was so worried about this being turned into a film. Death as the Narrator of the book, I thought, would pose some serious problems for the film medium, in conveying its sincerity. Another thing I was really worried about was who they cast as Rudy. Rudy was my favourite character in the book (closely followed by Hans). I prayed that they’d find someone who was innocent and energetic but had the more mature streak when it comes to how he feels about Liesel.
So, down to business.
Things I loved.
Firstly lets start with the setting. The setting was amazing. I don’t know where exactly the actual location for Himmel street is but its pretty much just as I imagined it. The Burgermeister’s house was just as I pictured it, how it stands out from all the rest of the houses and the scene where Liesel first enters the Library was just as I imagined it, her running her fingers over the books, the look on her face.
I think they managed to streamline the story very well in parts so that the main themes were included but so it didn’t hinder the films pace. Max’s journey to Himmel Street for example. they included the bit about his mum but left some of the in between stuff out.
Geoffrey Rush as Hans was perfect, his slow quiet movements, his expression when he played the accordion, his little jokes and sniggers at Rosa. PERFECT. I also did like Emily Watson as Rosa, I think they played on a lot more of her positive qualities which did kinda mean that when she was nice and kind it didn’t seem as poignant.
The scene where the Hitler Youth kids are singing and the Nazi’s are sacking Stuttgart? Was it that? I can’t remember exactly but I thought that was quite chilling. Also the burning of the books scene was really well done. Another scene that stayed with me is when Max goes outside and looks at the stars, I loved that. I also think the moments of quiet were used really well, the bombing of Himmel street for example.
The score by John Williams was lovely, I swear every so often he comes out with a score that is 10 billion times better than his brass heavy crazy scores for things like some of the bits in HP and Star Wars and many other films. His score for this one reminded me of his for Memoirs of a Geisha, so subtle and soft and the strings really push your tears over at some points.
Something I’m not too sure about.
The girl playing Liesel Sophie Nélisse, I thought she was great in some parts but really cold and stiff in others. Firstly though, she was NOWHERE NEAR scruffy and dirty enough in that first scene. She looked bloody pristine. She was amazing in the scene after the bombing and her and Rudy killed me, but then there seemed like a serious lack of emotion in other parts, when Max finally returns and see’s her for example. I don’t know, I am seeing it again on Saturday maybe then I’ll have more of a definite opinion on her but as it stands, I’m on shaky ground.
Something I absolutely loved.
Rudy Steiner. Rudy, Rudy, Rudy.
Nico Liersch was perfect as him. He has everything I wanted from him. I had the biggest grin ever on my face when they showed the Jesse Owens bit, I was so worried they wouldn’t include it. I just loved him, from the moment she enters Himmel street and you can see his white blonde hair, and he appears at the door to take her to school. The way he looks at her and just how completely honest his character is. I loved it. I loved the scene where he dives in and saves the book, that was just as I had imagined it. I just thought he was perfect.
Ok, things I was disappointed in.
They did take the harshness away from the whole experience a little, you kinda every so often forgot you were watching a film set in Nazi Germany until someone or something reminded you. I personally, while reading the book, didn’t find the fact that it was a story set in WW2 as one of the main leading themes, however, it was this looming presence, hanging in the air, almost like death is.
I felt they could have maybe cut some parts and included more to do with Liesel and Rudy because I felt that maybe some people who haven’t read the book might not have been attached to him and therefore the ending may not have been has heartbreaking, I kinda feel like tha’ts why they kept him alive for just a few moments when Liesel finds him (which doesn’t happen in the book). It would have been nice if they included just a minute or two of showing Rudy and Liesel stealing things, maybe not all the details to do with the gang they join but more stealing would have been great.
They didn’t really develop Max’s character beyond his relationship with Liesel, which took up more time than it does in the book.
The way they dealt with Liesel’s brothers death was not good, it felt rushed and a tad tacky, which worried me a little seen as its the opening to the film. Luckily enough it did get better.
Something I’m not too sure about.
Death, I loved death in the book, the way he talks about colours, his almost dry witty sarcastic tone sometimes, the dark irony he see’s in the lives of the humans he picks up. I thought at times, Roger Allam had the right tone and then in other moments, not so much. I don’t they used him anywhere near as much as they should have, he became such a one dimensional narrator who had very little personal insight into the people he took away, and they left out my favourite line from him…
“Rudy… Where was Rudy’s comfort? Who was there to soothe him as life’s rug was snatched from under his sleeping feet?
There was only me.
And I’m not too great at that sort of comforting thing, especially when my hands are cold and the bed is warm. I carried him softly through the broken street, with one salty eye and a heavy, deathly heart. With him I tried a little harder. I watched the contents of his soul for a moment and saw a black-painted boy calling the name Jesse Owens as he ran through an imaginary tape. I saw him hip-deep in some icy water chasing a book, and saw a boy lying in bed, imagining how a kiss would taste from his glorious next-door neighbour. He does something to me, that boy. Every time. It’s his only detriment. He steps on my heart. He makes me cry.” – They could have included at least the last 2 lines of that. His only detriment. Not talking about Rudy enough, hahaha, kidding.
Something I was absolutely, 100% completely disappointed with.
Where was ‘The Standover Man’?!
Where was it?! Something that is so so important in building Max’s character, way more important than 4 minutes of Liesel reading to him. It would have taken a couple of minutes, if that, to show that part, and its not like they would have to make something up, the pictures, everything is already there in the book for them to use. And then Liesel’s story…With the tree’s with the Swastika’s growing on them…I have no idea why they didn’t try to include that. Stories are what bring this story to life, Rudy being Jesse Owens, Hans getting Max’s fathers accordion, The Burgermeister’s wife and her son, and the books, and I loved those 2 stories, so so much. It’s the one thing, I am really disappointed that they didn’t include.
Overall however, I really enjoyed it. As you get older you do learn to go into seeing a film (that has been adapted from a book/play) with a pinch of salt, the film industry does tend to dumb things down a tad and play on only the positive aspects of the story, or the aspects that are easier to process (look at the ending to the film of My Sitser’s Keeper). But like I said overall it was lovely, very nice to watch, Rudy was AMAZING, Hans was amazing, which are, after all, my two favourite characters and I am looking forward to seeing it again which must say something.
I give it 3 and a half/ 4 out of 5 stars. I will probably decide after Saturday.