A young girl risks her life to protect a fugitive in the wartime drama The Book Thief.
THE BOOK THIEF (12A)
Death haunts every frame of Brian Percival’s wartime drama.
The Grim Reaper (voiced by Roger Allam) is the mellifluous narrator of this beautifully crafted story of courage and determination during the Second World War, based on the international bestseller of the same name by Markus Zusak.
Unseen until the final frames, the shadowy figure casts an unsentimental eye over characters in the midst of bitter and bloody conflict.
“The only truth that I truly know is that I am haunted by humans,” he confides.
In particular, Death is haunted by a girl called Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nelisse).
As tensions escalate across Europe, Liesel bids a tearful farewell to her Communist mother (Heike Makatsch) and is delivered into the care of foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson).
With encouragement from Hans, Liesel learns to read and she develops a voracious appetite for books, which is sated in secret by the mayor’s wife Ilsa (Barbara Auer), who owns a vast library of texts, many of which would surely go up in flames at one of the Nazis’ book-burning ceremonies.
Liesel hides these visits from everyone, including her neighbour and good friend Rudy Steiner (Nico Liersch), who proudly enrols in the Hitler Youth movement.
One night, a Jewish refugee called Max Vandenburg (Ben Schnetzer) arrives at the Hubermanns’ home and they offer him shelter in the basement.
Liesel becomes complicit in Max’s concealment.
However, when school bully Franz Deutscher (Levin Liam) overhears Liesel confessing her secret to Rudy, it seems that Max’s grim fate is sealed.
Intercut with Death’s words of wisdom, The Book Thief is a handsome and poignant drama that compels us to care about the spunky heroine as she risks her life to protect the people she loves from annihilation.
Nelisse is an endearing screen presence, whose innocence provides a glimmer of light during the darkness of the film’s tense and harrowing moments.
She gels splendidly with Rush as the man of principle with a heart of gold, and Watson is imperious in opening scenes as an iron-fisted matriarch who, as Hans puts it, “isn’t as strong as she looks.”
Indeed, when the facade finally cracks, screenwriter Michael Petroni skilfully engineers one of the film’s most humorous and heart-warming moments by having Rosa whisper to her foster daughter: “Wipe that smile off your face and pretend I’m the witch you know I am!”
John Williams’s Oscar-nominated score resonates loud and clear and is complemented by excellent production design and costumes that evoke the turbulent period between 1938 and 1942.
Like Death, we too are haunted by Liesel and her incredible journey, which lingers in the memory long after the curtain falls on Percival’s impressive picture.
RIDE ALONG (12A)
These are golden times for stand-up comedian Kevin Hart.
His most recent tour, Laugh At My Pain, and the TV special Let Me Explain were hugely popular and a 30-minute pilot television based around Hart’s high-energy act is currently in production.
He also currently has two films raking in the dollars at the American box office including this mismatched buddy comedy.
It’s difficult to see what the fuss is about.
Neither as hilarious as it should be, nor as thrilling as it could be, Ride Along shifts lazily through the gears as its protagonists clash during a 24-hour police patrol of Atlanta and unwittingly stumble into a far bigger case involving a shadowy criminal mastermind.
The film has echoes of last summer’s riotous romp, The Heat, starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, albeit without the belly laughs or winning screen chemistry between the leads.
The script boasts a couple of arresting one-liners and some slick action set pieces but we’ve screeched down these mean streets countless times before.
And with a sequel to Ride Along already in the pipeline, it seems we’re doomed to suffer the blare of police sirens once again next year.
High school security guard Ben Barber (Kevin Hart) is a videogame junkie, who has been romancing his girlfriend Angela (Tika Sumpter) for two years.
Her brother James (Ice Cube) is a highly decorated detective in the Atlanta Police Department, who thinks Ben is unworthy of Angela’s affections, which throws a spanner in the works of Ben’s intention to propose.
“I need [James] to be on board,” Angela tells her beau. “You two are the most important men in the world.”
In order to prove himself, Ben applies to join the police academy and against the odds, he is accepted.
Unfortunately, James is unimpressed and derides Ben as “a chromosome away from being a midget” to his detective buddies, Santiago (John Leguizamo) and Miggs (Bryan Callen).
James concocts a cunning plan to get Ben out of his life forever: he invites the unsuspecting rookie along on a 24-hour patrol of the city with the intention of throwing his partner into explosive situations that will end in humiliation.
The plan works a treat, until Ben’s nerdy video-game knowledge uncovers a clue that could lead to most notorious criminal in Atlanta.
Ride Along knows its audience and panders to them, allowing Hart to riff and wise-crack while Ice Cube rolls his eyes and gets on with the serious business of solving the case.
The 100-minute running time drags and the resolution to the animosity between the two men strains credibility.
Yet both actors possess a certain rough charm despite the weak material, and the final shootout is blessed with a cameo from a well-known star as the enigmatic Omar.