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The Reader (2009) Director Stephen Daldry 2 February 2009

Posted by jordanfarley in Uncategorized.

Oh dear oh dear, every year there are a couple of films which come out and wave their importance around for academy voters and the rest of the viewing public to see purely so that they can win awards. It’s shocking that this happens every year and while most of them are by no means bad films they are often much worse than their own self aggrandizement allows them to think. The Reader is one such film.

Adapted for the screen from a German novel by a British Screenwriter, a British Director and with two Britsh actors in the lead adult roles (both pulling off pretty flawless German accents) it makes you wonder why this wasn’t a German production in the first place.

The film stars Kate Winslet as Hanna Schmitz a middle aged tram conductor who starts a sexual relationship with a fifteen year old boy played by excellent young German actor David Kross after she helps him in the street one day. We find out that the young man is in fact a young Ralph Fiennes who plays Michael Berg as the grown up lawyer whose scenes are intercut with events in his own past. I’m hesitant to reveal little more about the plot because perhaps its biggest strength is its narrative but needless to say Hannah has a dark past which Michael is unwillingly exposed to several years after she abandons him while the older Michael must deal with the torment of the decision he made which could have saved his lover from her fate.

Apologies for the awful plot description but it would be cruel of me to strip you of perhaps the films one real pleasure. The relationship between Michael and Hannah feels real and heartfelt in both time periods and the tragic decisions the two make throughout the course of the film is devastating to watch. Where the film falls down however is that it seems to rub just how important it all is in your face. Admittedly a movie dealing with Nazi Germany and the holocaust was always going to be pretty serious but the reader is literally on the edge of pretention.

The opening 45 minutes of the film is almost entirely taken up by young Michael and Hannah’s sexual encounters, all surprisingly graphic and a little bit silly but the real heart of these scenes is where Michael reads to Hannah, dozens of books over there time together and it is not until much later that we discover why Hannah acts so strange during these moments. Winslet and Kross do well in these scenes (they are certainly not shy about their bodies!) but the tough middle aged German woman is becoming a little bit of a stereotype and it couldn’t have been much of a stretch for Winslet. Kross is brilliant is conveying the excitement of a young man in love for the first time but falls down in the second half of the scene when he is called on to look permanently depressed, red eyed and ciggarete perpetually in hand.

Daldry’s direction isn’t very cinematic, unlike fellow directors like Sam Mendes who also grew up in the theatre he never really takes any risks with the camera and it all feels a little dull. One particularly terrible scene involves the young Michael wandering round an abandoned concentration camp, as if to demand this film receives an Oscar now! It evokes the holocaust for God’s sake!

Fiennes is servicable in a largely thankless role requiring him to do little other than read and look depressed but it’s Winslet who’s bafflingly getting all the attention. She’s good, there’s no doubt about that but her performance in Revolutionary Road (review coming soon) is vastly superior, displaying a hidden depth which is entirely lacking here. Although the basis for the tragedy which plays out in the second half of the film is that Winslet’s Hannah has kept a secret that could have saved her it’s so obvious what we should be feeling at any given moment that it’s almost pointless having such a talented actress play the part.

By all means not a disaster of a film, The Reader is perfectly watchable (if you’re in the mood for a bit of underage sex) and tells a compelling tragic story but its self importance verges on pretention for most of the runtime and it’s always hard to enjoy a film about the holocaust.



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