'The Book Thief' movie adaptation receives middling reviews

'The Book Thief' is based on the novel of the same name by Markus Zusack.

Jules Heath/20th Century Fox/AP
'The Book Thief' stars Nico Liersch (l.), Sophie Nélisse (center), and Emily Watson (r.).

“The Book Thief” by Markus Zusack, a novel that follows a book-loving girl living in WWII-era Germany, became a publishing phenomenon following its release in 2006. The book received positive reviews and has appeared often on the New York Times bestseller list since then, currently holding the number one spot on the NYT Young Adult bestseller list for Nov. 10. 

So it’s probably no surprise that “Thief” was adapted for the big screen. The movie stars actress Sophie Nélisse as Liesel, a young orphan who goes to live with foster parents Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson). Liesel also comes to know a young Jewish man named Max when Hans and Rosa shelter him in their basement. The film is directed by Brian Percival, who also helmed several episodes of “Downton Abbey.”

The movie opens in limited release Nov. 8 and will enter wide release on Nov. 15.

What are critics saying so far? Reviews seem to be middling. The Monitor’s Peter Rainer awarded the movie a B-, saying that Nélisse is “a captivating young performer” and that Rush and Watson “give depth to what might otherwise have been mere star turns,” but called the film itself “respectable, safe, intelligent – and a bit dull.” 

New York Times critic Stephen Holden called Nélisse “appealing but bland.”

“[It’s] a shameless piece of Oscar-seeking Holocaust kitsch,” Holden wrote of the film.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Times critic Robert Abele was even less enamored, saying he found it odd that the movie “features little discussion of the emotional pull of reading, storytelling or writing” and that the movie “skirts explicitly addressing the fate of that generation's Jews.”

“What director Brian Percival and screenwriter Michael Petroni serve up is just another tasteful, staid Hollywoodization of terribleness, in which a catastrophic time acts as a convenient backdrop for a wishful narrative rather than the springboard for an honest one,” Abele wrote. 

Entertainment Weekly writer Adam Markovitz, like Rainer, gave the film a B-, calling it “schmaltzy.” 

“Any plot point that wouldn't pair with a swell of violins has been neatly excised,” Markovitz writes, though he calls Rush and Watson’s performances “smart [and] understated.”

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