Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Reader

This 2008 Academy award nominated drama is based on the 1995 German book of the same name and is directed by Stephen Daldry (he of Billy Elliot and The Hours fame, which is frankly one of the most boring movies ever made). The Reader stars Ralph Fiennes, Kate Winslet and David Kross in a sweeping story of love, regret and consequence. Here’s the synopsis: The Reader tells the story of Michael Berg, a German lawyer who as a teenager in the late 1950s had an affair with an older woman, Hanna Schmitz, who then disappeared only to resurface years later as one of the defendants in a war crimes trial stemming from her actions as a concentration camp guard late in the war. Michael realizes that Hanna is keeping a secret she believes is worse than her Nazi past, a secret that may cost her at the trial.

I’m going to come right out and say it, the “secret” that she believes is worse than her nazi past is the worst plot device I’ve seen in a long time. I mean it’s so bad that when it occurs you’ll say to yourself, “that was a secret?” And then the movie shoves an awful montage down your throat that says, “hey we know modern movie goers have zero attention span, so here’s a bunch of moments that have already occurred if you’ve forgotten them.” I turned to my friend after seeing the montage as was like, “um, so the secret was the thing we talked about 5 minutes into the movie, and the director felt like perhaps nobody noticed and had to do a montage?” I’m sorry, but seriously, this “secret” totally discredits the movie, making it nearly unwatchable. No wonder most critics have given this movie a negative rating.

The movie is roughly 123 minutes, but it feels much longer. As with most movies, The Reader is broken into a three act structure with a traditional denouement. The first act of the movie is with the young Michael Berg played by David Kross and his burgeoning affair with Kate Winslet’s Hanna. The second act is the trial, when Michael, now a law student, happens on the trial of Hanna and 5 other former female SS guards in their complicity with events pertaining to the holocaust. The third act, is after the trial, Ralph Fiennes ties up events, and then the end. However, these 3 acts feel like an eternity because the movie just doesn’t unfold slowly, it unfolds painfully slowly. Especially the third act with an older Fiennes is just awful screenwriting. It seems like the screenwriters were like, “how can we express how much regret Fiennes has from his youth? How about he tells his story to someone who he has no reason to tell and who doesn’t care? Now we just need to find a former holocaust survivor.” It’s frankly lazy screenwriting, like one of those scenes where the character basically says everything that’s going on during the scene. And that’s basically how this whole movie felt for me, really lazy and poorly constructed. It’s plain awful, boring as hell, insulting as shit, and well, I just can’t see how this film is nominated for anything.

Kate Winslet is nominated for Best Actress for this film, rather than for Revolutionary Road. While I frankly love her, she really doesn’t do much here since she’s really not the focus, the story is Michael Berg’s story and his love and regret for her, and I didn’t think her performance was all that great as well. However the part that really bothers me is the use of 2 actors to play the character of Michael Berg. In the first place David Kross plays Michael from the age of 15-26. When he’s 15 he looks way too old and then when he’s 26 he looks way to young. I was like, “this looks ridiculous, you should just have Ralph Fiennes play the character.” But yeah that would look ridiculous too. Then enter Ralph who plays the character 10 years later, and I was like damn, “Michael looks like a totally different person in 10 years.” All this adds to the feeling of displacement that permeates this film.

This movie is just ridiculous in every aspect, and even worse, it treats the viewer as if they have the intelligence of a 5 year-old. So yeah, I give this a sneak out/I want my money back rating. Sadly, out of all the films that have been nominated besides Ben Button and Slumdog, I was looking forward to seeing The Reader the most, and not only was this the worst out of the bunch, it’s not even close. No hard hitting message, no epic questions considered, no moral heart, totally forgettable. Terrible waste of time, and truly shows you that the Academy has their head up their asses by giving anything with a Holocaust storyline awards regardless if they’re good or not. Congrats Stephen Daldry, you made a by the numbers movie and still didn’t make it particularly good, seems like The Hours wasn’t a fluke. And seriously this isn’t even really a holocaust movie but rather a poorly made love story.

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