Trailer Face-Off: The Book Thief vs. The Railway Man

Published October 3, 2013

Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting themagainst each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week, The Book Thief vs. The Railway Man, two touching WWII dramas.

PremiseBased on the wildly popular novel, The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel, a nine-year-old girl living with foster parents in working-class Germany during WWII. Per the title, Liesel finds solace in books while also helping her family hide a young Jewish man from the Nazis. In The Railway Man, former British army officer Eric Lomax searches to find those responsible for his torture building the “Death Railway”—the Thailand-Burma railway operated by the Japanese. The film takes place well after the war, but has plenty of poignant flashbacks. Both films are certainly intense, but The Railway Man seems more psychologically sophisticated in its study of trauma and vengeance.Advantage: The Railway Man

CastThe fantastic Geoffrey Rush and underrated Emily Watson, who’s continuing her WWII streak after 2011’s War Horse, star in The Book Thief. The Railway Man boasts Colin Firth as lead Eric Lomax, Nicole Kidman as his wife Patricia, Stellan Skarsgård as his best friend, and Jeremy Irvine—who has no fewer than four movies coming out this year—as the young Eric. Watch out for Japanese action star Hiroyuki Sanada’s performance Eric’s Japanese torturer.Advantage: Did you hear us say Colin Firth? The Railway Man.

TearjerkerWe’re going to cry in both, let’s be honest. The real question is which film will elicit more tears. The Book Thief isn’t lacking in any Kleenex-inducing material: Liesel’s adoption by the her warm and nurturing foster family, her bond with the Jewish refugee, her friendship with her adorable neighbor Rudy,  not to mention all those books—we’re suckers for the transformative and redemptive power of literature. The Railway Man isn’t short on tears either: for one thing, there’s actual torture involved; for another, there’s Nicole Kidman as a suffering wife. Advantage: Tie

Adaptation ExpectationsThe Book Thief is an adaptation of the beloved 2005 (seriously beloved; it was on the NYT bestseller list for over 230 weeks) novel of the same name. Fans of books get pretty territorial when it comes to movie adaptations. The Railway Man is also an adapted film, from the Eric Lomax’s 1996 autobiography. Because The Railway Man tells a true story, it has to stand up not only to the book’s fans but also to history. Though The Railway Man (the book) was incredibly successful, The Book Thief was published more recently and is more ingrained in the cultural consciousness. Advantage: The Book Thief

Oscar OddsThe Book Thief‘s release date was recently pushed to November, probably to catch the attention of awards voters. Its chances look pretty good for Best Supporting Actor: Geoffrey Rush was nominated for his role in 2010’s The King’s Speech, though we prefer his turn as the deliciously disgusting Marquis de Sade in Quills. Fun fact: he’s one of the few actors to have won an Oscar, an Emmy, and a Tony—one Grammy away from an EGOT. His King’s Speech costar, Colin Firth, was not only nominated but won and, from the trailer, gives a seriously riveting performance in The Railway Man. Costar Nicole Kidman is also a former winner (for her Virginia Woolf in The Hours) and a three-time nominee. That said, any Best Actor Oscar is clearly going to Robert Redford this year, and we wouldn’t want to be against Oprah for Best Supporting Actress. Advantage: Neither

SoundtrackThis one’s not even a question. Legend (and we don’t use that word lightly) John Williams composed the original score for The Book Thief. If that name sounds familiar, you know him for his work on Jaws, Schinder’s List, E.T., Harry Potter, and perhaps the most recognizable movie score of all time, Star Wars. He’s been nominated a record 48 times. The Railway Man’s composer, David Hirschfelder, is no novice. He did the soundtracks for The Truman Show, Elizabeth, and Australia. There’s only one John Williams, though.Advantage: The Book ThiefVerdictWWII is chock-full of movie material, and both of these films seem to have made good use. Though technically there is no winner in this Trailer Face-Off, we’re are going to give slight favor to The Railway Man. There’s a lot of compelling reasons to see both films, but we fear The Book Thief won’t be as moving or encompassing as the book. The Railway Man delves deeper into both the war’s history and the psyches of those affected, both directly (the soldiers) and indirectly (their families). The richness of its content and the strength of its performances give The Railway Man the win this week.Winner: The Railway Man