Friday, March 16, 2012

100 Movies - No.77: The Reader

77. The Reader (2008)
Drama, Romance, 124 minutes
Directed by Stephen Daldry
Starring Kate Winslet, David Kross, Ralph Fiennes and Bruno Ganz

The Reader is set in Germany and the opening scene takes place in 1958. Michael Berg (Kross) is 15 years old and becomes ill on his way home from school. He's helped by Hanna Schmitz (Winslet), who cleans up his mess and ensures that he makes it home. Three months later, he's well enough to go and thank her, and they begin a brief, but intense affair.

Hanna appears moody and is quick to anger, but it doesn't usually last for long. There are some fairly graphic sex scenes, although the behavior does fit the characters well. Hanna loves having Michael read to her and it becomes part of his visits. She insists that he read before they have sex.

After a while, the affair ends and Michael isn't sure why Hanna left. We see him moving on with his life and studying law in college. Part of his course involves a trip to see a real trial and Michael is stunned to see Hanna among a group of six women who are being charged with war crimes. I only mention this because it's revealed in the trailer. The Reader is not a war film, it's a character study of the effects war can have on people throughout their lives.

Imagine being in that situation. Your first experience of sex is something you never forget. It's a very intense memory because it's tied to strong emotions. Michael has a dilemma because he has a piece of information which would help Hanna's case. The problem is, she hasn't volunteered the information herself. Should he allow her to make that decision, or should he present the evidence to ensure that justice is done?

The story frequently jumps from 1958 and 1966 to 1995, where Michael (Fiennes plays the older version) is now a successful lawyer. We see how his experience as a child has affected his life. He's unwilling to allow people to get close to him, whether it's a sexual partner or his own daughter.

I'm not going to reveal any more of the story because it would ruin the experience if you're watching it for the first time.

The acting is superb throughout. Winslet won the Oscar for her performance which spanned 30 years of Hanna's life. It can't have been an easy part to play with the frequent nudity and the strong subject matter. I don't think I have seen a better Winslet performance. Fiennes and Kross are also convincing as Michael Berg. Michael's college professor is played by the always excellent Bruno Ganz, and I loved his subtle performance.

If you enjoy good writing and emotional drama with fully-developed characters, The Reader is worth your time.

If you like The Reader:

Ralph Fiennes isn't a stranger to movies about the Holocaust. Schindler's List is probably the most well known movie about the subject.

Earlier in this 100 movies series, I mentioned Freedom Writers. It doesn't deal with people directly involved with the Holocaust, but it's an important part of the story.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is another intensely emotional story set in Germany during the war. Asa Butterfield (Hugo) gives a good performance as a boy who befriends someone in a work camp.

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  1. A very good movie. However, my favorite Kate Winslet performance is the one she gave in Revolutionary Road, a vastly underrated picture. DiCaprio and Michael Shannon were superb as well.

  2. I own Revolutionary Road, but was disappointed on first viewing. The Director of American Beauty, Winslet and DiCaprio? I need to see it again before I pass judgment.

  3. A great review, Steve!

    I was really blown away by THE READER and can remember sitting there watching it for the first time and being totally immersed. However with that said, I don't know if I would sit through it for a second time...a lil too intense for me.

    Wonderful performances throughout though.

  4. Thanks Russell. It is a hard watch, but I've seen it about five times with various different people. Underrated for sure.