“The Book Thief” is a touching, cogent film about a young girl dodging the travails of World War Two while at the same time discovering the magic of the written word. Although other pictures are drawing more attention as the Academy Awards approach, “The Book Thief” can boast of a fine score by John Williams, one with an assured, effortless feel: the composer of “Star Wars,” “Jaws,” “E.T.,” “Indiana Jones,” etc, knows all the colors on the palette and precisely where to place his brush.
The score conveys an overall sense of uncertainty, fragility, and dread, underlined by touches of innocence and hope. It also evokes a feeling of things lost, and the nostalgia that trails in their wake. Williams employs a shimmering, evanescent piano (“The Departure of Max,” “Jellyfish,” “Finale”), often complemented by an orchestral lushness. As the film is predominantly bleak (where it isn’t a bit too sentimental), most of the tracks are wistful at best, those tinkling piano notes tumbling softly like dripping water in a deserted room. The oboe (“Max and Liesel”) and the cello (“Learning to Write”) are two instruments able to conjure up a mournful air, which they do here to great effect. The title track, which could serve as either a meditative afterthought or a musical synopsis, fully embodies the themes and the gravity of the story. Williams’ music for Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” contained some of his finest work, and if the haunting melodies in “The Book Thief” reveal one thing, it’s that this acclaimed composer is still in peak form.