In novel-turned-award season movie, The Book Thief, a Communist orphan, young Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) is sent to live with foster parents in Commonplace, Germantown. There she gets to experience all sorts of war-torn film clichés, from watching loved ones join Hitler's army, to stealing contraband books, all the way to nursing the handsome Jewish refugee hidden in the basement. The film's central young actors are trying very hard, but the stuttered dialogue and bizarre on-again, off-again use of German spoils the broth. The same can be said for the strained plotting, which seems to present World War II in real time. Geoffrey Rush is huggable and Emily Watson fierce as Liesel's foster family, but even they buckle under the sort of haggard workmanship which has Death himself provide narration. If you've never seen a wartime drama set in a small European town, The Book Thief is all of them at once.