Review: The Reader (2008)

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I’m always up for Kate Winslet, and I don’t just mean because she gets naked. Seriously, I would, if possible, erase Sam Mendes from the picture, but I’m not that psychotic, I don’t think!

Screenplay By: David Hare
Directed By: Stephen Daldry

The general consensus on The Reader appears to be that it is yet another film about the Holocaust. In not so surprising of an event, I happen to disagree with the consensus. The Holocaust is merely touched on in The Reader, it is not by any means the main focus nor is The Reader a film about the Holocaust. Above all else The Reader is about the ideas of love, reconciling the past you thought you knew with what you now know to be the truth and dealing with the effect this has on your life. The Reader is also not just about Kate Winslet dropping her skivvies and boning a fifteen year old boy, although that does play a part.

I will admit from the start that while Winslet and young David Kross did a splendid job of imbuing their relationship with awkwardness, I didn’t find the relationship as awkward or off putting as most. That is because I have a much different view of consensual sex and sex with minors, mainly because my definition of a minor isn’t the same as most, than others do. Yes, Hanna is taking advantage of Michael, but the same would be true of many relationships I have been privy to where both parties have been of age. I don’t have a problem with a fifteen year old having sex with a woman as old as Hanna because he is consenting to the act and while he hasn’t yet matured, neither have most eighteen or nineteen year old’s that I know. I know the sex was abhorrent for some and awkward for most, but it didn’t bother me in the fashion it did most.

With that issue out of the way, the performances of Kate Winslet and young David Kross deserve their due. Winslet is well, Winslet and continues to be not only the best actor, male or female, of this generation, but possibly the best actress the world has ever seen. Without her turn in The Reader I don’t know if the subject matter would have been good enough to make you lust after, hate, loathe and feel sympathy for the same character all in a two hour span. My good friend, and fellow critic, Edgar, hey a shout out I’m like a radio station now, said it best when he described Kross’ performance as a revelation. This young man not only held his own with Kate Winslet, but held up to the material and delivered a far better performance than Ralph Fiennes, and he was no slouch in this movie either. I haven’t seen Mr. Kross in anything besides The Reader, but he showed such potential in The Reader that I look forward to following the rest of his career.

My original point when started this critique of The Reader was that the film wasn’t about the Holocaust. That is true, and that is also why I think The Reader slows down and struggles to maintain its momentum when it hits the courtroom and the focus is off of Michael and his reactions towards Hanna and instead is on Hanna and her actions as an SS guard. The Reader also has some problems initially with its structure, I don’t think the flashback narrative was pulled off as neatly as it could have been and there are a few times when a reemergence to the present hurts the flow of the story in the past.

Kate Winslet described The Reader as a great love story, and most people I know scoffed at her description, but she is absolutely right. It’s not a pretty love story, it’s not a love story we can relate to, nor is it a love story with warmth at its center. What The Reader does is present a love that hurts and creates distance between its participants. The Reader becomes the story of two people dealing with what they have done to the other. Michael is the first to fall, he does so when he doesn’t testify on Hanna’s behalf. He spends the rest of the movie trying to help Hanna, but more to help himself get over his own inaction. Hanna meanwhile takes much longer to fall, she doesn’t understand the rejection from Michael while she is in prison, it is only upon his visit that she realizes how much she hurt him, not because of how she left but because of what she took with her and what he discovered that she kept from him. Love isn’t always pretty, it can be ugly and hurtful, The Reader shows us that.

The Reader has its faults, and it is bogged down in the middle, but for the most part it is a fine drama about the ugly side of love and the ugliness of people in general. The performances from Winslet and Kross are worthy of any praise they receive and The Reader ends up a film that is well worth your time to see, especially if you are able to recognize that it isn’t about the Holocaust.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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5 responses to “Review: The Reader (2008)

  1. was a well made film i think

  2. Wassup…

    While you made the fatal error of putting my name and the word ‘critic’ in the same sentence, I still think you gave the film a fair verdict. It’s one of those films that has flaws, rather apparent ones at that, but the positives outweigh them overall to make it a fine film.

    Director Darldry and the screenwriter felt they owed to the original material to be as faithful as possible. However, I suspect that the middle third of the story, that is, when Michael is a law student and witnesses the trial of Hanna, read better in the novel. As always, the author provides a window into the thoughts of his characters, whereas Daldry’s film doesn’t allow Michael to do all that much for about 30-40 minutes. While the scenes in which the moral justification for the trials are fine in of themselves, they don’t mesh terribly well with the first third of the film. I felt like the middle part deserved its own film instead of find itself smack in the middle of this one.

  3. Bill Thompson

    Newman – Thanks for your thoughts.

    Edgar – What you call an error, I call faint praise, I mean, I can’t let you know all the bad things I say about you behind your back, now can i?

  4. I hated this film. I agree it’s not a Holocaust movie, but I object to calling it a love story as well. It just rambles, passionless, through the motions. The “twist” can be figured out 15 minutes into the story and it’s a pure bullshit reason for killing people. I know that part is likely the book’s fault, but you don’t have to adapt a book if it’s shitty.

    Winslet and Kross did a great job with the nothing they were given, but this film was a massive waste of time.

  5. Bill Thompson

    What’s a bullshit reason for killing people? Because her illiteracy was not the reason she killed people, she killed people because she was doing her job.

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