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The Reader (2008)

A movie directed by Stephen Daldry

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"Hey, Kid..."

  • Sep 22, 2009
The Reader was quite a surprise in 2008.  It's success is surprising because not only did it suddenly drop down from what seemed like no where, but it went on to become that "Little Oscar Movie That Could" (and couldn't).  Every year there's always one of those kinds of films out there.  In 2008 it was The Reader.  And while The Reader isn't really a bad film--there are even parts that are absorbing as hell--I can't help but admit that there were some moments when it feels like a let down.  The "twist" in particular (if you can rightfully call it a twist) doesn't mean much if you're not really willing to dig deep into the movies main theme.  I suppose this is a good time to point out that this review will have a few spoilers.

The movie centers on Michael Berg (the older Michael is played by Ralph Fiennes) who remembers his encounter Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet) when he was a teenager.  The young fifteen year old Michael Berg is played by David Kross.  As a teenage boy he gets sick and vomits.  Hanna helps him out, but he remains sick for three months.  Upon recovering from his sickness he goes to see Hanna again.  He begins doing things for her such as helping her out around the home... and then soon the two begin to have an affair.  Yet Hanna is a bit more withdrawn than Michael is.  On the other hand, there is one very intimate thing they do which means a lot to Hanna.  From time to time Michael reads to her.  These moments mean a lot to Hanna.  In fact, having Michael read to her means so much that she'll with hold sex from him until he does so in certain instances. 

The other thing which becomes clear in what can be described as a very strange relationship, is that Hanna isn't open about anything.  Not her past or anything like that.  She enjoys spending time with Michael but doesn't seem to want him to know much about her.  One day when Michael comes by she's disappeared...

Eleven years later, Michael sees Hanna again.  Except this time she's on trial for war crimes.  Michael happens to be studying law and has to sit in the courtroom on her case.  Her crimes are terrible as her past finally comes forth.  For Michael it's shocking.  Until he discovers that there is hope for Hanna.  All she has to do is let out her big secret (SPOILER ALERT!): She can't read.  If she lets everyone know this then it would change the course of the trial, even free her from a harsher sentence.  But she can't.  She'd rather be guilty of terrible war crimes than let anyone know she can't read.  This is perhaps where The Reader's biggest theme comes out.  The idea of self preservation versus shame.  It's also one of the themes which may upset many.  In particular some just might not like sitting through it all just to discover, "Wait.... she can't read?  THAT'S the secret?"  But it might not really be much of a secret.  The film does a pretty good job of dropping hints that Hanna can't read without deliberately coming out and saying it.

As I said, though, there are moments where the film is quite absorbing.  The trial, in particular, is among one of the best moments for the film.  It is after the trial where much of it becomes forgettable.  Afterwards the movie begins to move a little too fast for its own good, and it also begins to showcase that while we've been with these characters for a while, we hardly know them in and of themselves.  It's hard to feel sorry for Hanna.  Not because of her crimes but because it's not like she does anything to illicit sympathy from the audience anyway.  In short... there just isn't much of a reason to care about the characters.  There are some who accuse the film of making us feel sympathetic to the Nazi regime.  That really depends on if you're looking at the film as a holocaust movie or not.  The Reader isn't really much of a holocaust movie.  It takes place after the events of World War II, it just has a character who has a past involved in that.  She's a former Nazi.  But the movie doesn't really comment on the holocaust much at all.  The first half with the affair has absolutely nothing to do with the holocaust.  It is only in the second half when we learn about her war crimes that we even learn.  And even then the biggest focus of the second half of the film is more based on the fact that Hanna can't read then anything.  As she is forced to be in prison... Michael still reads to her.  Beyond that Hanna doesn't seem to care that she's in prison at all.  All she cares about is that during her time in there... she learned how to read and how to write (how the hell did she sign for stuff before she learns how to read then?  And she DOES have to sign for stuff). 

Looking at it from this perspective it's hard to really feel strongly about The Reader.  It's helped by having some top notch production values and performances (though Kate Winslet does a far better job in Revolutionary Road than she does here).  The editing is strong and so is some of the writing.  It's just hard to get passed the fact that the whole film is based around Hanna's illiteracy.  It doesn't make the story very compelling.  The trial is great... and so is the affair we see in the first half.  But once we get beyond the trial and the movie starts moving a little faster it just isn't all that exciting.  Despite good performance from Ralph Fiennes, David Kross and Kate Winslet the characters never become characters worth caring about.  It's got its strong moments, but it is hardly a Best Picture contender. 

The Reader is based on a book.  For those wondering the movie sticks very close to its source material.  In some moments almost to a disturbing degree.  There is still plenty left in the novel, but what they brought from the novel is very important to the film as a whole.  There isn't much difference between the novel and the.  At least nothing so huge that watching the movie ruins the experience of the book.

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January 12, 2010
I actually liked this movie quite a bit. It illustrates just how pride can sometimes be the cause of one's downfall. It also illustrates how one can make a difference. Winslet was phenomenal here. Excellent write up.
More The Reader reviews
Quick Tip by . July 18, 2010
The film that finally gave Kate Winslet her Oscar. Loved the story line and Kate Winslet definitely deserved it...
Quick Tip by . July 16, 2010
A great and understated movie. Kate Winslet was exceptional.
Quick Tip by . June 07, 2010
A little weird, but deep.
review by . May 20, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: David Kross is kind of cute      Cons: Every--last--thing      The Bottom Line: Sitting in a cafe window watching no one walk by for 2 hours is a better way to spend that time. VERY VERY DULL.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot. I’ve sat through another award winning, relatively obscure drama that I found extremely boring (I just finished reviewing the boredom of The Hurt Locker). …
review by . February 21, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
THE READER in the form of Bernard Schlink's masterful book made an emotional impact on those who read it. And for once the book to film version holds nearly as much agony and beauty as the original. The screenplay is by David Hare (whose transformation of 'The Hours' was so worthy) and it captures not only the dialogue of Schlink's novel but fills in the silences with well-constructed added commentary. Stephen Daldry ('The Hours', 'Billy Elliot') directs with great sensitivity to not only the narrative …
review by . December 29, 2009
Warning: this review contains a significant spoiler. If you really have no idea what the movie is about, and don't want to know...read no further. I don't discuss anything beyond what you find in virtually any review about the film...but be warned nonetheless.     THE READER is fabulously well-acted, and thus it is a gripping drama. When it's all said-and-done, though...I was left perplexed as to how to react. I didn't have mixed feelings about it...I literally wasn't sure how …
review by . February 16, 2009
  The Reader is by far the deepest film I have seen all year, maybe even ever and it was truly splendid to watch despite its subject matter. There was great acting on both Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes' parts. There is no doubting why this film is up for Best Picture in this years Academy Awards.    I am really appreciating the fact that so far, the films that are being nominated for best picture this year on not epic films, but just wonderful stories. Both The Reader …
review by . June 14, 2009
The difference between Art and mere Entertainment, is Art causes us to think and feel -- sometimes thoughts and feelings that are not exactly enjoyable. If I have ever seen a movie that is Art, it is "The Reader."    When I undertook my undergraduate studies, I decided to focus on 20th Century European History because I wanted to understand how and why the Holocaust happened. I even had opportunities over the years to talk to a few survivors of the camps and to talk with Germans …
review by . April 16, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
THE READER in the form of Bernard Schlink's masterful book made an emotional impact on those who read it. And for once the book to film version holds nearly as much agony and beauty as the original. The screenplay is by David Hare (whose transformation of 'The Hours' was so worthy) and it captures not only the dialogue of Schlink's novel but fills in the silences with well-constructed added commentary. Stephen Daldry ('The Hours', 'Billy Elliot') directs with great sensitivity to not only the narrative …
review by . April 14, 2009
For most of us our first love is something that always sticks with us, but in the case of Michael Berg (David Kross) his first love had a more lasting impression then most of us would want. At the age of fifteen he entered an affair with 36 year old Hana Schmitz (Kate Winslet in an Oscar-nominated role). The affair only lasted a summer, but it was wonderful to him. The two would have sex and then he would read to her. This was a daily pattern until one day Hana just disappeared. Years later during …
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Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #5
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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About this movie


Though THE READER may boast the typical pedigree of a Holocaust film--acclaimed actors, a literary source, and an Oscar-baiting end-of-the-year release date--this drama has a significant difference: it focuses on a perpetrator, rather than the victims. Kate Winslet takes on the hefty supporting role of Hanna Schmitz, a woman who has an affair with Michael Berg (German actor David Kross), a 15-year-old boy in 1950s Germany. They spend their brief romance alternately making love and focusing on literature, with Michael reading everything from Chekov to Homer to his lover. Soon, Hanna abruptly disappears, and Michael returns to his normal life. Almost a decade later, Michael is studying law, when he sees Hanna again; she is on trial for her crimes as an S.S. guard during the war. Michael is torn between a desire for justice and his knowledge of a secret that may save Hanna. <br> <br> THE READER makes full use of hindsight and historical perspective. Based on the bestselling novel by Bernhard Schlink, the s...

What is the nature of guilt--and how can the human spirit survive when confronted with deep and horrifying truths?The Reader, a hushed and haunting meditation on these knotty questions, is sorrowful and shocking, yet leavened by a deep love story that is its heart. In postwar Germany, young schoolboy Michael (German actor David Cross) meets and begins a tender romance with the older, mysterious Hanna (Kate Winslet, whose performance is a revelation). The two ...
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Director: Stephen Daldry
Genre: Drama
Release Date: January 9, 2009
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: David Hare
DVD Release Date: April 14, 2009
Runtime: 123 minutes
Studio: The Weinstein Company
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