I have not read the book but I greatly enjoyed the movie. Good narrative, excellent cinematography, and some stunning background music. While the film may be held guilty for some cardboard characters (e.g., all Germans are mean looking men), Robin Williams was surely under-appreciated in his very concvincing cameo as Jakob, a pancake vendor, who pretends to have a radio and distribute good news to other Jews in the ghetto -- and I don't mean just the accent. The guy is brilliant.
The theme is a cross between "Goodmorning Vietnam" meets "Life is beautiful" -- classic cultural interpretations of the forced lifestyle of the characters promote the effect of a rumour that a working radio exists in the barbed-wire ghetto, allowing a lowly pancake-vendor to raise to heroic proportions amidst his small group of associates and lie in the face of hope-dashing truth.
At its heart, the story is about the irrefutable spirit of human life despite seemingly unsurmountable odds as Jakob deals with the consequences of either perpetuating his lie or coming out with the whole truth, weighing hope against despair. Swept up in his own joking accident and a few well-timed coincidences, endorsed by the ghetto residents, the ghetto organizes to resist their Nazi oppressors.
As the fall of the Third Reich becomes more and more likely, the tangle of truth and falsity tightens around Jakob and each lie becomes more and more needed.
An interesting angle to look at the Holocaust, it serves as one of the better movies to introduce younger audiences to that odious period of human history. Oh, and did I mention that the background score is marvellous?