Director: Stephen Daldry
Cast: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross, Lena Olin
I have heard some critics saying that there have been too many Holocaust themed films that get Oscar attention, and they were miffed that The Dark Knight was snubbed for a Best Picture consideration while this film gets a shot. Personally I'm on the fence on that matter. I think at some point, blockbuster type films should get some awards attention beyond the technical kind, yet heavy drama such as The Reader or The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button or Frost/Nixon shouldn't be left out either. I say, keep things balanced.
But that's for another day to talk about. This past afternoon I walked into the cinema to see the film that granted Kate Winslet the long elusive Oscar for Best Actress. In The Reader, Winslet plays Hanna, a woman who has an affair with a young boy she finds puking all over himself outside her flat in 1958 Berlin.
The boy, Michael (David Kross) finds her attractive at first sight and frequently goes to her flat to have sex with her. He also spends his time there reading to her the books he brings from school. Their relationship, which initially looks like it is based on lust, has its ups and downs, but it survives all summer.
Then one day, Hanna moves away without warning, and Michael is left wondering why. Eight years later, he goes to law school, and gets chosen to be in a special group that follows their lecturer to the courthouse to witness a trial. The trial that Michael attends firsthand is for war crimes during the Holocaust, where he finds to his dismay that Hanna is one of the defendants. He is even more distressed to see Hanna willingly take the fall for her actions even though she is not solely responsible for the crimes.
For dramas like this, you'd expect it to be slow and draggy. And it does feel that way a lot, but the subject matter and the splendid performances will draw you in. Director Stephen Daldry could have done better on the sequencing of events though. He uses Ralph Fiennes playing the older Michael remembering in flashbacks to tell the story, and the constant flips back and forth through time is distracting.
Thankfully, the film's two main stars deliver. Winslet is magnetic as Hanna, a woman who manages to get our sympathy despite being rather insensitive not only regarding her war crimes but the way she treats Michael occasionally as well. By the time you see her serving her last days in prison, you can't help but feel sorry for her. Kross plays the younger Michael with plenty of youth and emotion. Initially I thought he looked like a silly kid but he gradually gets better as the film progresses. Lena Olin also shines in the few scenes she gets as a Holocaust survivor testifying against Hanna.
In my opinion, The Reader succeeds in delivering a heartfelt movie about love, loss and forgiveness. And the amount of time spent by Daldry filming Kross and Fiennes reading books out loud might even make you want to pick up a book. Recommended. (4/5)