Review: The Reader
Plot: In post WW2 Germany, a teenaged school boy, Michael (David Kross), falls in love with a much older transit worker, Hannah (Kate Winslet). While Hannah teaches him about sex, Michael in turn captivates her with readings from his various school books. Years after the end of their affair, Michael, now a University student studying law, attends the Nazi War Crimes Trials, and is horrified to discover that his former lover is among the defendants.
Review: Like FROST/NIXON, THE READER is yet another questionable Oscar nominee. While its certainly a good film, its also far from a great one, and certainly does not deserve to take home any gold statues.
One of the big problems with THE READER is that its one of the most uneven films Ive seen in a long time. The first third is absolutely great- when it concerns the illicit romance between Michael & Hannah. It sadly falls apart a bit once Michael hits university, mainly due to the fact that David Kross, whos excellent as a love struck school boy opposite Winslet, is forced to pretty much carry the film. He simply does not have the presence or the chops for the heavy dramatic lifting hes forced to do during the War Crimes trial sequences, and as a result, the film started to lose me.
Things start to improve once the film jumps ahead a few decades, and Ralph Fiennes takes over as the now middle aged Michael. Fiennes is solid as always, but sadly, the film is not able to recover from the botched middle section, and I found it hard re-investing in the film. I hesitate to lay all the blame on young Kross, as hes not the only thing wrong with the film.
At times, THE READER seems strangely artificial for a film dealing with such serious subject matter. If theres a handbook out there with all the elements a film needs to contain in order to secure a best picture nomination, you can be sure that producer Harvey Weinstein has read it. As a result, THE READER is so transparently Oscar bait-y at times, that it comes dangerously close to self parody- especially in some of the latter scenes dealing with an intellectual disability possessed by one of the main characters.
This is a real shame, as the film has a lot of potential. While there certainly has not been a shortage a recent films dealing with the Holocaust, THE READER is different, as it deals with a post-Holocaust Germany, which is not often depicted in film. The film also boasts a top notch performance from Kate Winslet in a very complex and difficult role. In many ways, her character is a monster, but Winslet surprisingly makes you care about Hannah, although the big revelation about why Hannah likes being read to so much is pretty obvious early on. All in all a truly great performance and Winslet really does deserve her Oscar nomination (even though its more of a supporting role, and not a lead).
Despite my problems with THE READER, its still a film well worth seeing, although far from Oscar worthy. Too bad, because if the filmmakers had been a little less blatant in their pursuit of Oscar gold, they might have made a truly great film- rather than a mediocre one.
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