The Reader

2008

The Reader

Critics Consensus

Despite Kate Winslet's superb portrayal, The Reader suggests an emotionally distant, Oscar-baiting historical drama.

63%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 199

79%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 206,838
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Movie Info

When he falls ill on his way home from school, 15 year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. The two begin an unexpected and passionate affair only for Hanna to suddenly and inexplicably disappear. Eight years later, Michael, now a young law student observing Nazi war trials, meets his former lover again, under very different circumstances. Hanna is on trial for a hideous crime, and as she refuses to defend herself, Michael gradually realizes his boyhood love may be guarding a secret she considers to be more shameful than murder.

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Cast

Kate Winslet
as Hanna Schmitz
Ralph Fiennes
as Michael Berg
David Kross
as Young Michael Berg
Lena Olin
as Rose Mather / Ilana Mather
Bruno Ganz
as Prof. Rohl
Matthias Habich
as Peter Berg
Susanne Lothar
as Carla Berg
Alexandra Maria Lara
as Young Ilana Mather
Jeanette Hain
as Brigitte
Friederike Becht
as Angela Berg
Alissa Wilms
as Emily Berg
Marie Anne Fliegel
as Hanna's neighbor
Jürgen Tarrach
as Gerhard Bade
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News & Interviews for The Reader

Critic Reviews for The Reader

All Critics (199) | Top Critics (49)

Audience Reviews for The Reader

  • Oct 08, 2015
    The Reader is of interest mainly due to some good, quality shooting and a story where it is difficult to decide what to think of the characters; life isn't simple. Despite the awards and nominations, the acting is not spectacular nor is the film as a whole. Still, it is worth a look.
    Robert B Super Reviewer
  • Jun 28, 2014
    It's a period drama about someone who reads, so, you know, this is going to be awesomely intense. I'd say that films dealing with Nazism seem to have lost their entertainment value ever since "Schindler's List" came in and said, "Hey, who needs a war movie where something actually happens?" (I would like to emphasize that I really like "Schindler's List", because I'm sure I'm in enough trouble for not out-and-out loving it), but "Judgment at Nuremberg", way back in 1961, was [u]three[/u] hours of a trial, and it was good and interesting enough without all of the sex scenes. Seriously though, you do know that this is going to be quite the weighty drama, not necessarily because it's about Nazism and all of that jazz, but because it's a romantic drama starring Kate Winslet. A lot of people in this film, such as Ralph Fiennes - who was a super-Nazi in "Schindler's List" - and Bruno Ganz, - who is playing a Holocaust survivor four years after he played Hitler - seem to be apologizing for their own Nazi pasts, but Winslet seems more interested in making up for "The Holiday". Even though I thought that movie was mighty cute, I can sort of respect Winslet for wanting to make up for that sappiness with the sadder romance stuff, but having "Revolutionary Road" released a few days after this film is just plain sadistic, not to people's emotions, per say, but to the quality of this film, by comparison. Oh no, don't get me wrong, this film is pretty good, but it's hardly "Revolutionary Road", for a number of reasons. I was kind of expecting this film to approach its broad timeline in a nonlinear fashion, and for a long while into the final product, I was expecting it to take the much more episodic approach of segmenting its plot's layers, but when it comes down to it, the film awkwardly tosses in glimpses of a present of 1995 to break up flashback segments which, upon shifting, jar, and it doesn't help that each segment outstays its welcome to begin with. Running a little over two hours, this drama of more than a few layers perhaps seems as though it ought to be relatively tight, but in the end, the film relies quite a bit on meandering material that, before too long, begins to run together, retarding momentum with the help of a certain directorial dryness which all but bores at times. I was fearing that the film would often be rather dull, so I'm rather relieved to find adequate entertainment value on the whole, but when Stephen Daldry's storytelling loses its grip on realized thoughtfulness, momentum takes a serious dip, at least enough for you to soak in the minimalism of the dramatic material to begin with. Consequentiality is limited in this talkative human drama, and whether it be Bernhard Schlink's novel or David Hare's screenplay, the writing of this film's story typically tries to compensate through some serious melodramatics which seem to define much of the narrative, and therefore could have been embraced in the context of the final product if it wasn't so blasted generic. About as big an issue as anything here is sheer conventionalism, because when you sit back, it's hard to deny that there is very, very little about this film that is unique, and that in turn makes it hard to ignore certain subtlety lapses that ironically subtly, but surely reinforce the predictability which a film so reliant on key, yet ultimately expected twists cannot afford to have. The film is so good so often, enough so to ultimately reward, but there are plenty of times where the film is - dare I say - kind of lazy, and its pacing problems make it limp enough, thus, the final product stands a serious chance of losing that reward value. Nonetheless, it is secured, and, needless to say, it wouldn't have been were it not for some pretty solid strengths, including stylistic ones. I don't suppose the cinematography is especially outstanding, at least when Chris Menges stands behind the lens, but whether they be breakthroughs of inspiration in Menges' photographic eyes, or the efforts of the much more talented Roger Deakins, highlights in visual style come into play as genuinely beautiful, and complimentary of a distinguished look molded by art directors Christian M. Goldbeck, Stefan Hauck, Erwin Prib and Yesim Zolan. Visual artistry helps in selling the era and tone of this period drama, as does musical artistry, for although Nico Muhly's score is far from unique, its following that the tensely light classical formula which is typical for modern Nazi dramas remains lovely enough to liven things up through and through, and resonate when the film is more realized in its dramatic storytelling. These realized moments are by no means as recurrent as I hoped they might be in the efforts of a dramatic storyteller as talented as Stephen Daldry, but they are there, highlighting a play on style and delicate substance by Daldry which does justice enough justice to intriguing subject matter to compel much more often than not. Minimalist and melodramatic, this film's story concept falls into a lot of threatening natural shortcomings, but as a portrait on secrets and justice which will define humanity and faith, this drama holds a potential that David Hare's script both mishandles - through structuring which is uneven in both focus and pacing - and does justice, with plenty of wit and well-rounded expository depth. Even on the storytellers' behalf, there is plenty of inspiration to go on with ambition and challenge laziness, and yet, with all of that said, momentum takes such a vicious beating that the final product comes dangerously close to collapsing as rather underwhelming. In the end, what just barely secures the reward value of this character drama is the characters' portrayals, with standouts including a charismatic Ralph Fiennes, and David Kross as a wise young man whose feelings for a woman he knows little, and is afraid to know all that much about may jeopardize a pursuit for justice, in addition to Kate Winslet, whose material is too thin for the actress to feel all that worthy of her Oscar, at least when you compare this performance to hers in "Revolutionary Road"... or to that of Cate Blanchett in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button", - for which she wasn't even nominated at the Golden Globes, or the BAFTAs, let alone the Oscars (I'm never going to forgive the award circuit of 2008 for that) - but still challenging enough for Winslet to nail the anxiety of a woman who must choose between concealing a shameful secret, or risking her life for great mistakes in the past. The film is more of a mess than many let on, but where it could have slipped as downright underwhelming, shortcomings are met with enough inspiration to transcend as consistently compelling. Overall, great focal and pacing inconsistencies allow you to ponder about the minimalism of genuine dramatic weight about as much as the melodramatics and hopeless genericisms which help in threatening a reward value that is ultimately secured by the lovely cinematography, visuals and score, tasteful direction, generally smart writing, and strong performances - the most show-stealing of which being by Kate Winslet - which allow Stephen Daldry's "The Reader" to overcome underwhelmingness and reward as a moving portrait on the past and the truth, no matter how discomforting. 3/5 - Good
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Dec 08, 2013
    Nothing short of brilliant, Stephen Daldry's "The Reader" is a twisting turning drama with stunning performances and constant surprises, delving into an interesting structure in which to tell a story with. Ralph Fiennes plays brooding lead man Michael Berg, whose thoughtful performance bookends the film, as the rest of the story is told through flashbacks of his life, encountering the love his life in the much older Hanna Schmitz, played by the graceful and enigmatic Kate Winslet, who captures every essence of this role and makes it her own. A sexual coming of age for young Michael Berg (David Kross), his relationship with Hanna stems off mutual pleasure in sex and reading, to which Michael reads to Hanna from the books he brings from school. Early on you realize Hanna's secret, but the film plays out as if you're not aware, which holds back the narrative slightly and causes for some anticlimactic revelations late in the film. The real twist comes when the relationship ends and Michael goes off to college to study law. Involved in a trial for Nazi war crimes, Michael makes a shocking discovery that changes the course of his life and the rest of the film. "The Reader" hinges on exquisite storytelling and exhilarating performances from both Winslet and Kross, who both reach beyond what you believe they are capable of and turn in some truly unforgettable deliveries. Fiennes, too, brings the film full circle in a way only he can, and with enough emotion to end up breaking your heart, Daldry achieves his gold of getting the viewer to feel for these characters. Not nearly what I was expecting from this film, it definitely deserves the attention that it received and will continue to be one of the best films from all those involved.
    Christopher H Super Reviewer
  • Jul 09, 2012
    The Reader is gorgeous film making. Daldry brings out the best in Kate Winslet in one of her most conflicted characters to date. Truly moving.
    John B Super Reviewer

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