Markus Zusak’s 2005 bestseller “The Book Thief” is a novel that is narrated by Death himself. Sadly enough, something seems to have died on the story’s way to the screen. A tale of WWII Germany as seen through the eyes of a young girl, the film is unobjectionable, sentimental, and not a little dull. Audiences who go to the movies for period décor and tidy tales of wartime struggle and courage will be moved, and the book’s many fans may appreciate the way the film faithfully re-creates events on the page while keeping them generic enough for everyone to agree upon. Director Brian Percival has cut his teeth on “Downton Abbey” episodes; on the evidence of that show and this film, he’s an expert embalmer.
The heroine is young Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nélisse), but by far the liveliest person in the movie is her foster father, Hans Hubermann, played by the reliably delightful Geoffrey Rush (“The King’s Speech”). When “The Book Thief” opens, Liesel is traveling by train with her mother (Heike Makatsch) to live in a small town with the Hubermanns, who will be paid to take the girl in and who could use the money. The mother, a Communist, is presumably being Sent Elsewhere. It’s all very mysterious.