Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"The Reader" Needs Better Writing


directed by Stephen Daldry
starring Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross, Bruno Ganz, others
based on the novel by Bernard Schlink

Ok, I have to admit upfront: I did not like "The Reader" - almost from the very beginning. I know it's based on a critically acclaimed novel, but whether something got lost in the translation to film or I'm better off not reading the book, the movie for the most part totally failed to resonate with me. I found the plot annoyingly overdetermined, the characterization weighed down by shallow psychologizing, the dialogue flatly schematic - you could see the underlining of every comment meant to convey !! the burden of guilt!! the transfer of that guilt to the post-Nazi generation!! sins of the fathers (or mothers)!!! mentally effing up the sons!!! Worst of all, I didn't buy the character of Hanna Schmitz at all throughout the entire first half of the movie, despite Kate Winslet's best efforts. I laughed at the montage of her being read to and reacting emotionally. I also laughed at her semi-German, semi-British accent, though I suppose she was just trying to sound like the German actors.

It did get better in the second half, but then any time you invoke the Holocaust, you automatically have a leg up on engaging your audience's emotions. Other good points? Well...Lena Olin has a great scene near the end. David Kross is excellent as the jailbait reader-lover - I actually believed his character much more readily than I did Hanna's. And Ralph Fiennes, as the older version of the kid, has an awesome moment where he smiles in a way that looks exactly like Kross's smile. (Hardly surprising, since Fiennes can convey more with the merest flicker of his eyes than most actors can do with their entire faces.) And, hmm, let's see...well, there are some beautiful shots of the German countryside.

Otherwise, the film doesn't have much in the way of distinguishing features. Too often it feels like it's trying hard to say something really significant about aforesaid burden of guilt without succeeding in making me feel like it's either real or significant. "The Reader" may be Kate's ticket to that much-coveted golden man, but there's little other reason it will (or should) endure in our short collective memory.



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