Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Reader: Grade C

The Reader (2008)
Kate Winslet, Ray Fiennes, David Kross; Director Steven Daldry.

Winslet won best actress for her role as Hannah, a dim-witted ex Nazi prison guard. She randomly encounters a young boy (Kross) on a Berlin street, takes him to her apartment and has sex with him. He is thrilled, naturally, and comes back several times for more, but she remains emotionless, and finally moves away without notice. Time passes and he is a law student attending a Nazi war crimes trial, and who is among the accused but Hannah, his former paramour. Still dim-witted, she expresses herself without guile, demonstrating what philosopher Hannah Arendt in 1963 called “the banality of evil.”

In the last scene, Hannah is released from prison after 20 years and the boy, now grown up into Fiennes, agrees to help her re-enter society. Why does he? No explanation is provided. He stares a lot into middle distance with anguished expressions, but we have no clue what he is thinking. Were they ever in love? There is no reason to think so. Did they ever care about each other? Not apparently. Do they care about each other after many decades? We are supposed to believe that they do, but it is just not believable.

Kate Winslet is a fine actor, fully deserving of the Oscar, but not for this picture, in which she is mostly expressionless. The make-up people aged her well, but that is not acting. She does the first few scenes nude, and that could be considered daring, but being naked is also not acting. The acting is pretty bad in this movie, mainly because the characters are drifting without a narrative to reveal them. You can’t show good acting if there is nothing to express. Fiennes manufactures some unspecified emotions just so he has something to do. Winslet shows an ounce of emotion during her trial, but generally remains in zombie mode. What is the point of this story? Nazis were people too? That is not a new idea. Sets, scenes, and costumes make the movie watchable but it is not very interesting.

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