The Reader

Posted January 7, 2009 in Film

A sight-perfect simulacrum of human feelings that ultimately feels as uneasily hollow as staring robot Abraham Lincoln in the eye. David Kross, then Ralph Fiennes, play a post-WWII German genius named Michael seduced as a virgin teenager by Kate Winslet’s Hanna Schmitz, a pragmatic blue-collar worker who views her handsome conquest with the flat enjoyment of a window to a world she’ll never visit. Winslet is quite good at her Teutonic accent and battered reserve and will deserve an Oscar nomination if it comes her way. But that doesn’t redeem the rest of Stephen Daldry’s drama from being an airless vacuum labeled Serious Film. Later, we learn that Hanna is a former Nazi and current illiterate, though the second has been obvious for an hour. Oddly, instead of moving the film forward, the twists paralyze Daldry and screenwriter David Hare (working from Bernhard Schlink’s novel) as much as they do the now-older Michael, a lawyer, who channels his complicated feelings into a silent, stiff shame. But though Michael suppresses evidence that could have kept Hanna from a harsh jail sentence, we’re less engaged with the rightness or wrongness of his adult judgement than we were when wondering if child Michael should really spend his days afterschool bonking a woman more than twice his age. He’s walled off, Hanna’s walled away in prison, and we’re watching the film’s final stretch with the dispassion of admiring really nice wallpaper. (Amy Nicholson)



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