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Adapting A Timeless Masterpiece: Making The Reader
A Conversation With David Kross & Stephen Daldry
Kate Winslet On The Art Of Aging Hanna Schmitz
A New Voice: A Look At Composer Nico Muhly
Coming To Grips With The Past: Production Designer Brigtte Broch
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1 Color (Anamorphic)
Audio: English: Dolby Digital Stereo
Run Time: 124 min
Synopsis from DVD Cover:
Academy Award winner Kate Winslet (Revolutionary Road) delivers a dynamic performance in this "tale of eroticism, secrecy and guilt" (Claudia Puig, USA Today) set in turbulent post-Nazi Germany. Bringing to life the celebrated international novel, Winslet is riveting as Hanna Schmitz - a lonely, working-class woman who experiences a brief but intense affair with a teenage boy. Years later they meet again: Hanna now a defendant in a notorious case and her ex-lover, now a law student, holding the secret to her salvation. Directed by three-time Academy Award nominee Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours) and featuring Ralph Fiennes (The Duchess) as the grown man still reeling from Hanna's influence, The Reader is a "moving, romantic and poignant story" (Roger Friendman, Fox News) about the difficult distance between truth and reconciliation.
It's hard for me to justify my 7/10 for "The Reader." When I see it on shelves, at best, I make a face at it-at worst, I hide it behind something else. I can go on for hours about the many reasons to hate it, and its very existence irks me. The problem is that, in many respects, it's a very good film. I can't go lower than a 7, because that detracts from Kate Winslet's stunning performance, which I loved in a film I didn't. I'll just say this - forget the commercials, because this ain't no love story.
What it is, truth be told, is a child molester story and a Nazi story. Our girl Hanna Schmitz (Winslet) is both. Michael Berg (David Kross) is 15, and Hanna is 38. After some scarlet fever and a ride on a dirty train bring these two together, there's an affair that consists of sex, reading, and the eventual departure of Hanna. When she resurfaces in Michael's life eight years later, it's under very unlikely circumstances; when Michael re-inserts himself into Hanna's world a few decades later, we see just how much their brief time together affected both for a lifetime.
All of my gripings about "The Reader" are to come, but again, none of them go to Winslet herself. She doesn't make Hanna sympathetic, she doesn't make the audience root for her, and I, for one, wasn't saddened by her fate. And seriously (I won't reveal too much for those who don't know), THAT'S her secret? Ugh. But again, Winslet seems empty in there, much like Hanna, and to take a character and NOT make her charismatic or sexy or any of the easy trappings of female villainy is a greater feat. She sees no other way to have lived her life and never gives an easy out to audiences that want to empathize. Kross is also sweet and vulnerable and a really good actor as teenage Michael, and despite their "situation," he has a definite comfort level with Winslet that goes a long way towards making their onscreen together time watchable.
So, maybe the child molester thing sounds harsh, but I stand by it. This isn't a "coming of age" tale, not a young boy's journey to manhood. No - he's 15, she's 38. It's creepy and it's not a love affair. OK, that's out of the way. Moving on to the "second act," the issues raised by Hanna's crimes are thought provoking, but again, there's no resolution. The old Hanna/adult Michael third act is wrought with problems, both story and execution-related. The greatest offense is Ralph Fiennes, who bears no resemblance character-wise to the young Michael, or even the law student Michael, both who show passion and, well, character. Fiennes seems almost bored-and he should be. The bit at the end with Lena Olin is almost painful to watch for its creaky, forced attempt at providing an unsatisfying end to Hanna - fine, she gets no absolution, but can't two fantastic actors like Olin and Fiennes have better dialogue?
Oddly enough, this was one of the rare cases for me in which Deleted Scenes actually made the film better. I don't think putting them in the film would've been a good call, because it was long enough as is, but they do definitely add depth (seriously, there's about 40 minutes of stuff here). The rest is a the theatrical trailer and a series of solid featurettes that explain themselves with their titles: "Adapting A Timeless Masterpiece: Making The Reader," "A Conversation With David Kross & Stephen Daldry," "Kate Winslet On The Art Of Aging Hanna Schmitz," "A New Voice: A Look At Composer Nico Muhly," "Coming To Grips With The Past: Production Designer Brigitte Broch." Though I'm not necessarily one of them, there are those that really love this film and for them, this is a set of Extras worth seeing.
Exceptional performances and great directing still don't make this the masterpiece some see it as-really, it's just one more Oscar-chasing Holocaust film elevated by the acting of Winslet and Kross.