187 of 227 people found the following review helpful
A profoundly moving and intellectual masterpiece...,
This review is from: The Reader (DVD)I am writing this review on Oscar Nomination morning (although due to the fact that I refuse to post a review until the DVD has dropped you will be reading this much later) mostly due to my elation that it has been nominated for not only the marvelous performance by Kate Winslet (in the right category mind you) but also for Best Picture, Best Director and Adapted Screenplay. I've been chomping at the bit to write this review ever since I walked out of the theater a few weeks back, and since then I've seen the film a record three times and I would watch it again right now if I could. I've pondered this film, discussed this film, relived this film and can honestly label it the best film of the year and quite possibly one of the best films I've seen in a long time.
Sure, you can be quick to pinpoint it's supposed faults, and you can try and label it something that it is not, but if you allow your eyes to open and your mind to absorb you may be able to see this for what it really is; a masterpiece.
When sitting down to write this review I asked my friend how I was going to be able to do so without being redundant or irritating. I mean, how many different ways can you say masterpiece before someone says "I get the point, now move on"? I'm going to try and get all that out of the way right now so that my review will be palatable.
`The Reader' is a masterpiece.
Okay, I'm done now.
Having read Bernhard Schlink's beautiful novel I was really anticipating this film. I feel that Kate Winslet is the finest working actress today and this just seemed like such an ideal role for her (Oscar, if you pass her over this year I vow to never watch another telecast). I of course try and shrug off all `high expectations', and thankfully with `The Reader' there was no hype. It hasn't been hailed as the best of anything, and while it has landed on a few top ten lists it rarely breaks close to the top. The reviews have been mixed, some raving it as a masterpiece, some labeling it a faux; an imitation of a more insightful film. The only awards the film has garnered up until the point have been for Winslet so walking into the film, I was not feeding into hype.
I was simply hoping to see a good movie.
The film tells the story of Michael Berg, a young fifteen year old boy living in Post-WWII Germany. One day while making his way home he falls ill and is helped back by an older woman named Hanna. After waiting out his illness he attempts to thank Hanna but he winds up falling into a steamy affair. The two bond over books, using reading as a form of foreplay, and the two become almost inseparable. Then for no apparent reason Hanna leaves town without a word and Michael is left wondering why his only love has left him. Years later while Michael is attending law school he gets the opportunity to sit in on a trial being held over war crimes and is stunned, and ultimately heartbroken, to see Hanna is one of the accused.
First and foremost it should be addressed that this is not your typical Holocaust film, for quite frankly the Holocaust is the least impressionable part of this film. The film, like the novel, deals strongly with the feelings of guilt and redemption. There is a moral play that runs throughout each scene that begs the audience to cast judgment, but not in an absolute way but in a more complex and understanding way. `The Reader' has no easy answers, but it throws at the audience a bit of a conundrum. It reminds me very much of `Dead Man Walking', a film that appears to have such an easy answer yet causes you to rip apart your own ideals.
I am keeping SPOILERS to a minimum here, but be forewarned that there may be a few.
When we meet Michael and Hanna they seem like an odd match. He is obviously better off financially than she is. He is attending school and is doing rather well. Hanna is working a dead end job and living in a small apartment. Her education is limited but her yearning for more is apparent. There is an attraction physically, which cannot be denied. While Hanna is rough due to the nature of her life she is a diamond in the rough, a beautiful woman trapped within the shell of her former life. Michael is young and coming into his own; a handsome boy with a head on his shoulders.
There's innocence within him that Hanna desires.
Their relationship is very fast and very graphic, but there is a sincerity there that one needs to truly look for. Some have complained that the relationship was pure surface; nothing but lust. They are missing something crucial. `The Reader' is a film filled with quiet moments that speak volumes about the characters. There is a deeper connection between these two souls, one that maybe they can't even recognize. There is a moment where Hanna finds herself inside a small church listening to a young choir and the tears are streaming down her face, and as Michael watches her from the doorway we can see it; even if he or even she doesn't truly understand it.
It is there.
As the film progresses and the two are separated we begin to truly see the deeper connection that they are feeling for the first time. As the trial proceeds Michael is caught between his own feelings of right and wrong; between what is ethical and what is not. He is disturbed by the revelations concerning his former love; distraught over what this means for him and whether or not it had anything to do with his personal attachment to this woman.
Can he bring himself to hate her? Can he bring himself to forgive her? Does she deserve that hatred or that forgiveness?
There is a moment when Michael is attempting to visit Hanna in prison when everything makes sense; his eyes swelling with an emotion he has yet to fully realize. He struggles to convince himself that he hates this woman, because hating her would make it easier to forget her.
`The Reader' is a masterfully crafted tale of love and loss; of what we tell ourselves in order to better understand something we haven't the capacity to grasp. There is the shame in Hanna's eyes as she hides her secret (one that you no doubt had guessed long before it was revealed, but the revealing of the secret is not really the point of the story), willing to sacrifice her very life so as not to be downgraded or looked down on. There is the guilt in Michael's eyes as he blames himself for Hanna's fate, unable to step outside his skin long enough to decide the correct course to case. This is a story about mistakes and missteps and regrets and the ultimate loss that comes from not fully understanding how to feel.
Technically, this is a flawless film. I remember reviewing `...Jesse James...' last year (this site still won't let me type in that full name) and going on and on about how technically perfect it was, from the cinematography to the score to the lighting to the mood to just about everything. `The Reader' is the exact opposite in scope yet just as profound. It is a much subtler film, and so the score, the lighting, the cinematography and the set designs are smaller, yet just as pristine. Everything is so crisp and delicate; adding layers to the mood perfectly presented by director Stephen Daldry. I was a little hesitant about Daldry's ability to transfer Schlink's novel to the big screen. I loved `Billy Elliott' and continue to love it more and more every time I watch it, but Daldry's latest effort was that 2002 debacle `The Hours' and so I was truly afraid that he was going to run the same gamut and deliver a similar piece.
`The Reader' is not only much more profound and poignant, but it is also executed much better than `The Hours' (to be fair, I need to watch this movie again, but I was not impressed the first or second go around).
When it all boils down to it though, this movie is all about two things; Kate Winslet and David Kross. Both actors deliver career highs (and to say that about Winslet is saying a lot since she is always top notch). Their performances are truly organic. That has become my new favorite word this year, for I feel as though it truly taps into the depth of these performances. There is a naturalness that fortifies itself within these performances, deepening with each flicker in the eyes or twitch under the skin. Try your hardest to watch Winslet's face (I know it's hard, especially since she is without clothing for practically the whole first hour of the film). There is a scene where she is lying in the bathtub and Kross comes in to hash out their argument. As he speaks you can see for the first time her hard exterior melting away and revealing this woman that she doesn't even know exists. It is so subtle yet so profound.
Winslet is utter perfection.
Kross is just as superb, sinking into his character and delving deep into his emotional responses to his current situation. The scene in the courtroom (all of the courtroom scenes are beyond breathtaking) when he notices Hanna for the first time is utterly immobilized. Watch as Kross exhibits such a natural gut reaction; as controlled as he can be yet giving way to lapses of uncontrollability.
The supporting cast is also superb, from Fiennes' dynamic understanding of Michael's emotional regression to Bruno Ganz's grasp of the real situation at hand. The one standout here is truly Olin, who proves to be one of the most important facets of the film. Her final scene with Fiennes is what makes the movie work, dispelling any easy sympathies for Hanna's atrocities with her cold standing. For anyone who has complained (and there have been many) that this film tries to condone the actions taken by Hanna I urge you to rewatch and study this scene, for in a few short words Hanna's actions are condemned wholeheartedly.
Remember, it is not her actions that we are sympathizing with, it is her inner person; cold and rigged yet incomplete, pleading for something or someone to make her feel whole.
Thanks in large part to David Hare's marvelous adaptation, `The Reader' lives up to its source material and delivers a truly outstanding and utterly astounding look at this tragic yet beautiful love story. If you walk away from `The Reader' unmoved then maybe you are just plain unmovable.
I'll close by saying that the Oscar's have passed, Kate won the gold (YES!!!) and I still agree wholeheartedly with every word in this review.
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Showing 1-10 of 63 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 20, 2009 8:04:10 AM PDT
Mr. Mister says:
yet the film got no oscar nod for best soundtrack? whats up with that?
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 20, 2009 10:37:49 AM PDT
the score was amazing, but Oscar can't get everything right...they passed this over for Best Picture for 'Slumdog Millionaire', so, yeah...
Posted on Mar 21, 2009 9:23:08 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 21, 2009 9:23:29 AM PDT
Little Goldie says:
Mr. Ellington: I wholeheartedly agree with you. This movie is definitely a "must see". The only word I would add is "betrayal". Hanna betrayed Michael by not saying good-bye. He then betrayed her by not revealing what he knew of her education, or lack thereof. If he had said something, the outcome of the trial would have been different.
I believe this story is a great one that could be discussed in several types of courses: literature, psychology, sociology, ethics and law.
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 22, 2009 11:32:09 AM PDT
yes, i agree on the betrayal point...that is a central facet of this film
Posted on Apr 5, 2009 6:47:12 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 2, 2009 8:28:05 AM PDT
Lina M says:
I finally just got my hands on this masterpiece.
And I couldn't agree more on everything you mentioned,
Should have without a doubt won Best Picture of the year!
Simply, the BEST movie I have seen in a really really long time.
I'm speechless, it was flawless, it was genius.
In reply to an earlier post on Apr 6, 2009 6:07:20 AM PDT
i'm so glad you feel that way Lina! I agree...best picture of the year, and one of the best films I've ever seen, period...
Posted on Apr 13, 2009 1:33:07 PM PDT
In reply to an earlier post on Apr 14, 2009 9:43:32 AM PDT
you obviously don't understand the acting process...you probably think if you aren't yelling and throwing things then you aren't emoting...but what Kate did here was build a subtle and internal performance that bred of pure emotions and delivered a shockingly natural and believable portrayal of a woman guarded and suppressed by her own limitations.
In reply to an earlier post on Apr 14, 2009 7:47:03 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Apr 15, 2009 4:33:28 AM PDT]
Posted on Apr 15, 2009 10:55:42 AM PDT
Beatrice, i'd love to know what you had to say...