2008 // USA - Germany // Stephen Daldry // February 6, 2009 // Theatrical Print
C - Stephen Daldry's studiously grave The Reader doesn't quite slip from dry, forgettable melodrama to outright obnoxiousness, but it flirts with the move. Never mind the film's thunderous pomposity at its own bravery, manifest in a weary shouldering of Very Serious Issues and a limitless supply of scenes featuring a nude Kate Winslet. The former can work in a film's favor (e.g. The Dark Knight) and the latter is merely the prestige picture version of stunt work. What sticks in the craw is the labored, clinched manner in which The Reader plods towards its revelations, which are neither shocking nor thematically stimulating. That said, the film is smoothly efficient at achieving its primary goal: provoking vigorous discussion of its story's moral peculiarities. Daldry's direction isn't the least bit artful, but it is disciplined and occasionally charming, which is odd in a work that is otherwise so mirthless. The treat at the heart of The Reader is not Winslet, whose performance is durable yet monolithic, but Ralph Fiennes. His nuance of countenance and voice command the gaze, enriching scenes that haven't earned their pathos and lending The Reader the lion's share of its dramatic heft.