Movie review: ‘The Book Thief,’ 3 stars

The Book Thief

Three stars

Directed by Brian Percival

Starring Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson

Rated PG-13

Playing at Lincoln Square and Union Square

Nazi Germany isn’t what you might call an ideal setting for a family-oriented movie. To compensate for what can’t be shown, films set during the period that are geared at least in part toward a younger crowd have been typically defined by an abundance of schmaltz.

Aside from a few weird and unnecessary touches, “The Book Thief” resists such affectations. An adaptation of the best-selling Markus Zusak novel, the film illustrates one German family’s experience, and it does so without compromising the horrors outside their front door.

The story regards the tumultuous events from the perspective of Liesel (Sophie Nélisse), a 9-year-old girl who is given up by her mother and taken to live with Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson) in a small German village circa 1938.

It spans the next seven years and includes Kristallnacht, book burnings, air raids, violent deaths, threatening Hitler youth and an extensive period in which the family hides a young Jewish man named Max (Ben Schnetzer). No corners are cut when it comes to the totality of the experience from this family’s perspective.

This is a work of great integrity, filled with top-notch performances and powerful human drama, as Liesel, Hans and Rosa navigate the tricky balancing act between their home lives as dissenters and their public identities as good citizens of the Reich.

The story celebrates reading, writing and creative expression as antidotes to totalitarianism and group-think. It’s an important message, especially for younger audiences first encountering such a dark and horrific time in human history.