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The Reader (2008)

A movie directed by Stephen Daldry

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The Reader -- a great way to be bored for two hours

  • May 20, 2010
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). The Reader is as dull as the title implies. I mean … would there be anything worse than … sitting there … watching someone … read? Yes, introduce an interesting and thorny issue into it, then ignore it.

In the 1950s, a young German teen, Michael Berg, collapses on his way home from a tram stop. A conductress helps the ailing boy into a posh neighborhood and deposits him on his doorstep, then disappears. Once he recovers from his lengthy illness he seeks to find her. He does find her, becomes smitten, then begins a clandestine affair with the somewhat voluptuous, officious Hanna Schmidt. During one of their sessions he begins to read to her. Hanna loves this and his reading to her becomes a standard part of their trysts. These end when Hanna is given a promotion to an office job. Without a word to anyone, she simply disappears—at this point it becomes obvious to the audience that she is illiterate and is pathologically ashamed of this.

The pair then “meet” again by accident. He is a law student involved in a special seminar. Michael’s seminar group attends a trial of a group of women accused of being SS guards among whom is Hanna. During the trial, Michael realizes that Hanna is not only illiterate but lying. He can present this information in court but, after some unconvincing internal wrestling, opts not to.

Half a generation on, Michael runs across some of the books he had read to Hanna during their affair. For what is probably a hodge-podge of reasons, he decides to read to her again. Over the course of a few years he sends her book after book on tape. Despite the fact that I do not recommend this film, I will not go any farther with the plot summary since it can be seen as poignant (I have to opine that I found it sophistic and at one point truly laughable).

David Kross plays the young Michael. He is cute and bubbly and is effective when he is supposed to be bubbly, but when he is supposed to be mature, he just seems petulant. Ralph Fiennes’s plays his version of Michael with congested emotions: he’s not quite guilty, not quite cynical, not quite convincing. A lot of my ire, though, goes to Kate Winslet. Hanna, in her hands, is a Soviet meter maid. She is all clipped language and abides no nonsense; she has as much emotion and flexibility as an oaken door. Because of this, the summer fling, to me, was without passion and failed to make any sense—this is especially true since Michael gives up more than one chance to play with someone his own age that didn’t seem to be an emotive goosestepper. As a defendant, I found it impossible to feel anything at all towards Hanna. I simply didn’t care what happened to her and that apathy didn’t waiver for the remaining hour of a very boring movie.

The full bore of my ire goes to the director. Stephen Daldry made Billy Eliot a film I recommend as the best palate cleanser after watching an emotionally painful/extreme film—it’s funny and will make you cry for all the right reasons. In that brilliant work, I wind up being emotionally invested in everyone. The Reader must be his payment to a minor imp: he sold his cinematic soul to make Billy Eliot and the payment was this endless, emotionally stunted, and ultimately silly piece.

The film does raise an issue that it subsequently drops almost as if it had been a mistake to bring it up in the first place. The professor for the special seminar asks a very difficult question to answer: is it right to punish someone today for behavior that was entirely legal if not required decades earlier? We get the question, we may even begin to mentally prepare for this fought debate, but then … we get Michael … reading … into a tape recorder … a lot.


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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.
review by . September 22, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
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 …
Quick Tip by . June 07, 2010
A little weird, but deep.
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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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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