Friday, January 17, 2014

Film Review – The Book Thief (3/5)

The Book Thief is a powerful film. It has beautiful music. An adorable cast and characters. A great cinematic experience.

So what's wrong with it?

Nothing is wrong with it. I just think that it does not live up to the greatness and ingenuity of the novel. (Here's a review of the novel I wrote a few weeks ago) For a novel that has almost an experimental narrative, and a story narrated by Death (a character), the movie felt very ordinary.

Here are some strong points for the film:

1. Characters. You cannot help but fall for Liesel, Hans, Rudy, Rosa, Max (and everyone else, even the Nazi-affiliated Mayoress). This is in credit to the actors themselves. Anything good or bad happening to them is greeted with joy or grief by the audience because they were that convincing. Also, the lack of romantic relationship throughout the entire film was refreshing. It seems like nowadays a film can't do without something steamy going on between a hot woman and a (preferably white young–if any) man.

2. The music helped. Half of the emotional policing was done very effectively with music. Of course that's because it was done by John Williams.

3. Cinematic photography. This is both a pro and con. While the careful staging of the story to enhance cinematic experience (for example, careful placement of Nazi flags in background towards metaphorical effects) helped tell the story, too much of it would suck the authenticity out of a story. Too much of it and you start to feel like you are in a Peter Jackson movie where everything is 'too intentional'.

4. Accents. How refreshing to watch a film set in the Second World War era where German characters don't talk in American or the Queen's english. The reason a film like Valkyrie (led by infamous Tom Cruise) doesn't deserve as many credit as it should is because the German characters are unashamedly cast with American accented English.

5. No SS suits, there is no Nazi glorifying in this film, that is always too evident in WWII films. That has always been the thing with movies set in this era made by Hollywood. Even though they all claim to be anti-Nazi, they never shy from portraying them to be a glorious empire of slickness and good design – which in a way is glorifying. As though they get their kicks out of seeing men in black SS suits.

6. The ending. (Read below)

Here are some weak points:

1. Dragging. The film dragged on in the middle. I won't bore you by telling you about it because then, I'd be doing the same, dragging this unnecessarily.

2. Storytelling. The reason, in my opinion, the book was so powerful was because it was told by Death – an almost impersonal being, without mercy, bent on one fixed agenda – and his story is about this little precious girl, so different from him, so much so that in the final line of the film (which I am glad they decided to include in the script) because of the way Liesel was, Death admits (he) is very curious about what it means to live. In the film, they did away with much of the narration by Death, and so loses the power of the story. Again, the scripting is unnecessarily dragging.

3. Another Second World War film. This wasn't just another WWII novel, that was for sure. My only qualm is that by the way the film is treated, it might just go down as just another WWII film. 

4. Poster. You might think a film poster is the least of people's problems with a movie, but it is. The Book Thief's promo poster reeks of gimmick and false communication. Instead of focussing on other more powerful elements in the film it focusses on the predictable flickering fire scene that is forgettable.

The Ending made up for everything wrong with the movie though. The closing lines narrated by Death. The wrapping up of the story.

Overall, there was nothing wrong with The Book Thief. But there was nothing extraordinary about it either. And for a novel that was extraordinary, that is a shame.

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