The Reader (2008)

The Reader (2008)
  • Time: 124 min
  • Genre: Drama | Romance
  • Director: Stephen Daldry
  • Cast: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross


Middle aged German barrister Michael Berg recollects to himself his lifelong acquaintance with Hanna Schmitz, a relationship with whom he never disclosed to anyone close to him. Michael first met Hanna in 1958, when he was fifteen, she thirty-six. The two had a turbulent summer long love affair, dictated by Hanna that their encounters would begin with him reading to her followed by lovemaking. Michael next encountered Hanna in 1966, when Michael, now a law student, attended the Nazi war crimes trial of six female former S.S. concentration camp guards, one of whom is Hanna. Through listening to the testimony, Michael comes to the realization that he is in possession of information which could save Hanna from a life in prison, information which she herself is unwilling to disclose. In deciding what to do, Michael is torn between his differing views of justice.

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  • In years to come, The Reader would not only be remembered as one of the most overrated and least deserving films ever to be nominated for a Best Picture, but also as the film that denied Christopher Nolan’s unparalleled superhero epic, The Dark Knight, a chance for a shot at Oscar glory. In fact, there are many other films that are superior to The Reader: Clint Eastwood’s Changeling, Thomas McCarthy’s The Visitor, and John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt are some worthy examples that should have been considered if the Academy had foolishly decided against The Dark Knight.

    The Reader is directed by Oscar-nominated British director Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours) and stars Kate Winslet in one of her most challenging roles to date. She plays Hanna Schmitz, an ex-Nazi guard during the Holocaust who now plies her trade as a train ticket collector. One day, she encounters an ill teenage boy Michael Berg (played by David Kross) near her home and decides to temporarily care for him. After a few meetings at her home, a torrid affair blossoms between them. Hanna does not know how to read and write; so apart from sex, Michael often reads books to her. However, the affair is shortlived when Hanna suddenly leaves town, leaving a heartbroken Michael in her wake. This is essentially the crux of the first third of the film.

    The second and final third of the film revolves around a war crime trial (where the two meet again in the courtroom) and Hanna serving her life sentence (and growing old) in prison respectively. While the copious nudity and numerous sex scenes involving Winslet and Kross in the first third serve as a tantalizing appetizer, what comes thereafter in the remainder of the film lacks sustainability in what is a straightforward and predictable narrative that is as inspiring as a dead fish. The direction by Daldry is dull and almost lifeless. As a result, The Reader moves like a tepid game of chess between two uninterested opponents. Furthermore, the film lacks focus with back-and-forth timeline shifts that are more distracting than informative.

    Ralph Fiennes plays an adult Michael, whose screen-time is not sufficient to fully realize his role, thus giving a poor and flawed young-to-old transition of the character that viewers will find hard to care. Fortunately, Winslet’s character does not stray the course. Thanks to some impressive makeup, Hanna remains emotionally and physically believable. Winslet will probably win her first Oscar for this but that does not make The Reader a must-watch. It is anything but.

    SCORE: 5.5/10
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