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By Matthew Sorrento | February 23, 2009

There’s a grand distrust in the genre of historic fiction. It seems that one time period just isn’t good enough anymore, so filmmakers subject their audiences to heavy-handed time travel. Alas, that’s the case in “The Reader,” which is likely the shallowest “serious” film to be reeling this year.

Ralph Fiennes’ character, Michael Berg, begins life as lady-killing German lawyer, circa 1995. Before Fiennes’ suave can settle in, we’re whisked away to when he was a boy. When Michael (now played by David Cross, with pin-point eyes and a healthy nose) spews on the cobblestones from scarlet fever, a stiff-backed tram worker helps him. Director Stephen Daldry calls for some major suspension of disbelief by casting Kate Winslet – that angelic, brilliant performer locked in countless men’s dreams – as a crotchety spinster, one who’d be called grandma by the time she reached 30. Winslet does her best to embody the stiff Hannah Schmitz, even if her dedication veers toward camp. (Is there a Frau Blücher in the house?)

Though Winslet’s in better form after dropping her ragged garb for some skin time. See, it turns out that the “The Reader” is a cloaked male fantasy, in which a milf is masked as a spinster, all for a 16-year-old’s pleasure. And sure enough, the contrived script masks the sex obsession under an illiterate woman’s desire to read – it seems that prostituting herself is the only path to literature. All the while, young Michael has other babes falling all over him. Not once does he pass a gorgeous woman who doesn’t trip over herself to get his attention. If a woman wrote this story – sure enough, the Oprah-lauded novel is by a blockhead named Bernhard Schlink – it wouldn’t have gone past Act I.

This hidden agenda is enough to make “The Reader” the unintentional exploitation film of the year. Yet the film is just getting started: the Holocaust is soon victimized by this contrived tearjerker. While studying court cases as a law student, Michael notices Hannah being tried as a holocaust guard. Now Michael realizes she’s the love of his life, even if his Julie Delpy-ish peer does everything save handing over her panties to him. In spite of this trite melodrama-masked-as-drama, Winslet and Fiennes pull out their best for a touching reunion scene. How fast the spirited moment is consumed by the heartless tale.

The film still has two notable supporting characters, in the form of Kate Winslet’s areolas. They even make an appearance under some cloudy bathwater. Is it possible to make a bare Winslet, both posing and in coitus, flat-out boring? This miraculous piece of crap proves it so.

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  1. Amy R Handler says:

    Matt, I’m sorry I missed this review and the opportunity to comment when it was written! I really like “The Reader” and find the slower scenes and instances of incompleteness, purposeful, plausible and extremely provocative. Not only is the acting superb, but the director very astutely explores human nature and the multi-facets of silence. It’s the type of film that grows in provocation each time it’s seen—which I believe is the job of great cinema.

  2. Vince in WeHo says:

    It’s hard to take your review seriously. But, I’ve gathered, you had a difficult time taking “The Reader” seriously. I didn’t.

  3. Me says:

    I just saw this for the first time and went back to the reviews to get a general feeling for what was thought. I have to say I find your analysis completely lacking. It seems you jumped right from the sex scenes to crossing your arms and pouting for the rest of the movie. While I agree that it was slow at times, I would still give credit to Fiennes and Winslet for some fantasic work. I just wish more films would be as thought provoking, when can I honestly ever say that I hated to feel bad for Nazi.

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