Unlock the mystery.
Running Time: 124 minutes
US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15
Country: United States
I have no idea how I feel about The Reader. On one hand, I think it was a really good film, directed brilliantly with award-worthy performances from its leads. It made me think. On the other hand, there are significant flawsbut are these flaws the fault of the movie or the fault of the story itself?
Fifteen-year-old Michael Berg (David Kross) never expected that the nice lady who found him in an alley and delivered him to his home during his bout with Scarlet Fever would become his firstand much olderlover. But thats what happened, and though the sexual affair between young Michael and Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet) lasts only a summer, their connection continues for decades, affecting both in ways neither could anticipate.
I cant really talk about this movie without throwing around some spoilers, so consider that your warning. Now, the first thingWinslet is brilliant, Kross is great, too, and the two share their screen time convincingly. But heres the thinghes fifteen, shes well, shes very much not, and its just kinda icky. Its not a love storyshes a pedophile who goes on to be a guard at a concentration camp, where she inflicts horrible cruelties upon female prisoners, even letting a burning building full of women die rather than unlock a door. She is never a sympathetic character, no matter how much you want her to beand that is exactly why Winslet succeeds. She keeps us engaged without making us sympathize. Hanna knows her affair is wrong, as shown when the couple encounters a Boy Scout-like troop and she eyes them guiltily, realizing her young lover is barely out of their age range. And during the courtroom scenes, though she fully admits to her part in the camp atrocities, she seems confused as to what else she shouldve done. None of this is overplayed for dramatics, and credit goes not only to Winslet, but also to director Stephen Daldry for the subtle moments that reveal Hannas emptiness. Its one of those films that make you wonder what you wouldve doneHanna is never justified, which creates a disconcerting, unsettled feeling.
My only real complaints with the film artistically involve Ralph Fiennes as a grown-up Michael. As a boy, and even as a twentysomething law student, Michael shows no signs of becoming the cold fish presented by FiennesI get he went through some things, but its not even like its the same character. Even though his story is supposedly what were viewing, I cant imagine that the man seen telling his tale is Krosss sweet, passionate Michael. The Lena Olin/Fiennes scene also seems contrived and thrown in as a bookendboth actors are capable of more than something this trite.
Overall, performances and directing save The Reader, but its not an easy watch, or an especially enjoyable one.
It's Got: Great performances, moral ambiguity, wasted Lena Olin potential.
It Needs: Something different in the form of older Michael, time for us to think about it afterwards.
Alternatives:Notes on a Scandal, The English Patient , To Die For
An uneven movie with some great, subtle performances, The Reader has no easy answers and leaves us wondering about the borderline of moral reprehensibility.