The Reader Reviews
A testament to the talent of late producers Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella, their ability to reach into situations and embrace issues that confront society have produced some of cinemas greatest moments is a treasured legacy.
This adaption of Bernhard Schlink's controversial 1995 novel Der Vorleser (The Reader) by screenwriter David Hare and director Stephen Daldry is poignant, timeless and moving.
Approaching one of the century's most genuinely disturbing issues, The Reader finds a balance between the need for post-Nazi war crime justice and coming of age romantic eroticism.
The Reader opens in 1995 Berlin, introducing an aloof and emotionally numbed attorney Michael (Ralph Fiennes); swiftly we are transported back to 1958, where Michael's younger self (played exceptionally well by David Kross) is on his way home from school and is stricken down with what later turns out to be scarlet fever.
Happening upon Michael vomiting in her apartment entrance, Tram ticket handler Hanna Schmitz (Oscar winner Kate Winslet) with a gruff and unapproachable manor, first scrubs the area clean then assists Michael in returning home in that order.
After months of isolated recuperation, Michael returns to show his appreciation for Hanna's assistance. However, Michael's visiting intentions are more than to show his modest appreciation, his sexual desires and intentions are obvious when he purposefully makes a mess of himself creating a need to be naked and bathe.
Hanna playing the game and supposedly not wanting to send him home dirty draws him a bath. Using her sexual directness Hanna kindly relives the naive Michael of his virginity and sets the tone of their summer long relationship.
Dictating their bedroom rituals with her distantness and military style orders, before Michael (or as he is affectionately nicknamed, Kid) can have Hanna intimately he must read to her from his school books including the likes of Twain, Homer and Chekhov.
One day shortly after Michael's sixteenth birthday, he comes to visit as usual only to find Hanna has gone. No note, no reason, never to be heard from again.
Eight years later, Michael attends a war-crime trail as a law student in Heidelberg. From the balcony of the court room Michael is started when he hears Hanna's voice from the defendant's bench. As one of half a dozen who committed a particularly atrocious mass murder, described in the bestselling memoir of a Holocaust survivor, Hanna was an SS camp guard at Auschwitz.
Michael endures the trail, becoming increasingly shaken by the evidence that his first love is, by any standard, a monster. Accused as the mastermind behind a mass murder of over 300 Nazi prisoners, Hanna is coerced into admitting full guilt.
How does one deal with a lover who is a monster? One can only condemn her; but in that condemnation, where lies the process of understanding? Holding the key to her salvation through his personal knowledge of Hanna can Michael grant atonement?
Winslet with her classical Hollywood grace delivers a typically intelligent performance. Bring deep shades of light and dark whilst remaining emersed in the shadows of a war ravished and morally destroyed soul.
Kross delivers a gutsy and intense performance, complimented by Fiennes' emotionally and morally tormented older portrayal there is a strong continuity of character.
The Reader's light and humanising approach to its second halves distressing topic of Auschwitz torment does not linger. Commonly, films based on this instant rely on shock scenes and vulgarity, in The Reader there is none; there is only one single artful flash back that brings understanding not pain.
The film does have flaws and was rightfully passed over not receiving the best picture nod. The over done early intimacy scenes although tastefully done is a heavy and clumpy, and the lack of grasp on a solid timeline is jumpy and disjointed.
The Verdict: It is easy to knock films for their flaws, but to sit through one and be taken from a young joyful romance into a harrowing case for justice and feeling the extremes of compassion and condemnation for the same character is rare.
Published: The Queanbeyan Age
Date of Publication: 27/02/2009