Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Reader (2008) - REVIEW

Some might consider this blasphemous, but there are actually some books out there that are better on the big screen, and Bernhard Schlink's "The Reader" is one of them. Opening in the 1940's in Berlin, 15 year old Michael Berg (David Kross) becomes violently ill on his way home from school. After stopping to recover a bit, a woman named Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet) walks by and takes him up to her apartment, before walking him home. When Michael returns 3 months later (his condition forced him to stay inside) to thank her, and after a few awkward visits, the two make love. This blossoms into an affair that lasts over the summer, where Michael and Hanna not only have a romantic relationship, but also a literary one; Hanna becomes enamored with the way Michael reads aloud, and begs him to read her whatever he's studying in school. After the relationship abruptly comes to an end, Michael next sees Hanna in 1966, during part of the Nazi war trials, where she is on trial for being a guard at Auschwitz. For a movie that could have simply made Winslet's character a cheap villain, director Stephen Daldry and writer David Hare keep a surprisingly balanced portrayal of the character. The film also succeeds thanks to its three central performances (Kross, Winslet, and Ralph Fiennes as Michael in his later years). Winslet is particularly luminous as Hanna, a woman who's hiding many secrets, yet also capable of showing tremendous feelings. A scene in which Hanna sits in a church listening to a children's choir is particularly well executed, with the camera focused on Hanna's face; the range of emotions Winslet displays is damn impressive. The cinematography, while not flashy, does an effective job with the bleak scenery, and the score fits the tone of the film, even if it does feel a bit like a Philip Glass rip-off. Just when you thought that all of those Holocaust movies were all the same, Daldry and crew have created something elegant, something beautifully acted, and something different in all the right ways.

Grade: A-

Nominations: Best Supporting Actress - Kate Winslet, Best Supporting Actor - David Kross, Best Adapted Screenplay - David Hare, Best Original Score

Number of 2008 films seen: 52

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