It's my sincere belief that Kate Winslet only works early in the year, so that all of her films can be released in November or December to register as award contenders. An actress who seems to attract Oscar clout just by her mere presence, Winslet stars in The Reader, a quazi-Nazi drama, not to be confused with another Winslet movie that is now playing in theaters as well, Revolutionary Road.
The movie stars David Kross as Michael Berg, a young man in the 1950's who finds his first love - and sexual identity - in the form of the older Hanna Schmitz (Winslet), a rather terse and cold woman who he falls for nonetheless. They carry on their affair for just a summer, but establish a fragile bond; she offers sex and companionship, and he agrees to read to her and open her eyes to parts of life she never knew existed. Several years later, though, as a law student, Michael attends a trial for six Nazi women who are accused of letting hundreds of prisoners burn to death - Hanna is among the accused. As he watches in disbelief, he realizes that he holds a truth that could help her case, but it is a truth that Hanna herself does not want revealed. Ralph Fiennes stars as the older Michael Berg.
The Reader is one of those odd pictures for me, a well-done picture that just doesn't click on all cylinders. This is a movie that's made for me to love, but I didn't love it for whatever reason, despite the scorn of my brother and mother who went with me and thought the film was extraordinary.
The story is interesting and unique, as I can't really recall seeing another movie about a teenager's first sexual experience that cascades into decades of remorse and regret, coupled with a Nazi courtroom drama that interweaves itself so seamlessly into the boy's - and man's - life. The screenplay, by David Hare and based on a book by Bernhard Schlink, is top notch, and the actors all deliver strong performances.
Still, it was my inability to connect with Kate Winslet's character that ruined the movie for me, which is odd because, as explained after the fact by my mother of all people, hers was the deepest and most intriguing of the bunch. Her explanation made sense, and I wish that I would have realized it at the same, but throughout The Reader I only wondered why Michael was so intrigued by Hanna, the cold bitch who was just as mean to him as she was nice. Of course, her cold bitchiness is just a front to cover up for the atrocities she committed during the war, her rather foolish decisions simply a product of a lack of education.
The film also seemed to meander near the end, hitting the audience with about twenty possible endings before finally arriving at the ending credits following a rather dull final scene. All that being said, The Reader is a pretty engaging movie, and there is one sequence in the middle - where Michael records a variety of stories for Hanna onto cassette tapes - that I thought was truly stunning.
The Reader could be one of the better movies of 2008, but it didn't register with me on my first viewing. Others may - and hopefully will - have a wholly different experience.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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