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.