Could the movie version of ‘The Book Thief’ be a sleeper hit?

In what is shaping up to be a year full of splashy young adult film adaptations vying to be blockbusters -- including “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bone,” “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters” and “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” -- the adaptation of Markus Zusak’s contemporary classic “The Book Thief” is flying under the radar.

Directed by the Emmy-winning Brian Percival (“Downton Abbey”), “The Book Thief” stars Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson and French Canadian actress Sophie Nélisse, a 12-year-old unknown. The film will rest on Nélisse’s slim shoulders, telling the story of Liesel, a young girl in a foster family growing up in Nazi Germany who steals books and shares them with her community.

Nélisse beat out thousands of actresses for the role. “It was quite uncanny, this kid,” Percival told USA Today in a First Look. “It was this mixture of naive innocence but at the same time she’s actually quite ballsy. You feel you can get kneed in the groin at any point.”


And although the subject matter is heavy (this book about the Holocaust is famously narrated by Death, though it remains to be seen how or whether that will be portrayed on-screen), Nélisse apparently helped the set stay cheery.

“There were some tough scenes to do, but she would always prick the bubble after and make me laugh,” said Rush.

A theatrical version of the book was produced by Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago last year. A review in the Chicago Tribune noted that it wasn’t “easy to pack in all aspects of this complicated book, even though, at 2 hours, 15 minutes, this is one of the longer Young Adult shows Steppenwolf has produced” -- but concludes, “The show surely lands with its audience.”

It appears that Fox is high on the film as well, as it has been quietly moved to a Nov. 15 release date, a prime time for Oscar-friendly films. If the film gets anywhere near the emotion of Zusak’s bestselling, school reading list perennial, it will be a formidable competitor.


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