ReviewWriter: Ezekiel Lee Zhiang YangWriter Ratings:Overall: Cast: Plot: Effects:
NACinematography: Watch this if you liked:
"Billy Elliot", "The Hours", "Twin Sisters"
Easily the weakest of Stephen Daldry's three feature-length films, "The Reader" is a muted, half-baked examination of German guilt that does however come off as very accessible compared to the rest of his works.
The regrettable absence of a Philip Glass score and a less meditative narration have turned it into a people-pleasing mainstream piece that'd have sunk if not for the Oscar-winning performance from Kate Winslet, one of the finest British actresses from her generation. It'd be impossible to discuss this film without referring to her fragile yet angry, womanly countenance, a precision in acting that does elevate the film to another level of cinematic delight.
"The Reader", to risk a spoiler, isn't a Nazi or Holocaust movie. Clocking in under two hours (post-censorship), we're taken on the psychosexual adventure of one Michael Berg, who chances upon an older woman named Hanna Schmitz one summer and subsequently experiences an affair most 15-year-olds never get. Years later after the ordeal, he ends up an aspiring lawyer in court, listening in to the case of his one-time lover who is now being tried for war crimes. It's a fleeting love story just as much as it is a study of shame and guilt.
The greatest triumph of this movie is the humanisation of Hanna Schmitz as the SS guard - it was a wonderful and completely plausible explanation on how ordinary people could do horrendous things when we're on the outside looking in. Kate Winslet has done much better than this ("Holy Smoke" 1999, "Sense And Sensibility" 1995) but her intense, 'annoyed' portrayal of an older lover is absolutely delightful to watch. The casting of young David Kross (who learned English for the movie and was afforded a special scheduling arrangement so that his sex scenes could be filmed when he turned 18) is creepy because he looks so much like the late Heath Ledger. However, together with the old Michael Berg (played by Ralph Fiennes) and other peripherals like Lena Olin, it was always a line-up that seemed to be built around Winslet's stellar performance, although it obviously wasn't meant to.
Still, the biggest grouse against Daldry's third film is his decision to understate things, despite a successful partnership with David Hare to adhere to Bernhard Schlink's source material.
"The Reader" was the least watched and least known Best Picture nomination at the Oscars. This is still a very good chance to catch it and discover some compelling, though flawed, European drama.Cinema Online, 02 March 2009