The Reader

The Reader

THE READER opens in post-WWII Germany when teenager Michael Berg becomes ill and is helped home by Hanna, a stranger twice his age.  Michael recovers from scarlet fever and seeks out Hanna to thank her. The two are quickly drawn into a passionate but secretive affair. Michael discovers that Hanna loves being read to and their physical relationship deepens.  Hanna is enthralled as Michael reads to her from “The Odyssey,” “Huck Finn” and “The Lady with the Little Dog.” Despite their intense bond, Hanna mysteriously disappears one day and Michael is left confused and heartbroken. Eight years later, while Michael is a law student observing the Nazi war crime trials, he is stunned to find Hanna back in his life – this time as a defendant in the courtroom.  As Hanna’s past is revealed, Michael uncovers a deep secret that will impact both of their lives. 3.0 out of 5 based on 24 reviews
The Reader

Omniscore:

Certificate
Genre Drama
Director Steven Daldry
Cast Ralph Fiennes, David Kross, Lena Olin Kate Winslet
Studio The Weinstein Company
Release Date January 2009
Running Time 123 minutes
 

THE READER opens in post-WWII Germany when teenager Michael Berg becomes ill and is helped home by Hanna, a stranger twice his age.  Michael recovers from scarlet fever and seeks out Hanna to thank her. The two are quickly drawn into a passionate but secretive affair. Michael discovers that Hanna loves being read to and their physical relationship deepens.  Hanna is enthralled as Michael reads to her from “The Odyssey,” “Huck Finn” and “The Lady with the Little Dog.” Despite their intense bond, Hanna mysteriously disappears one day and Michael is left confused and heartbroken. Eight years later, while Michael is a law student observing the Nazi war crime trials, he is stunned to find Hanna back in his life – this time as a defendant in the courtroom.  As Hanna’s past is revealed, Michael uncovers a deep secret that will impact both of their lives.

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Reviews

The Evening Standard

Derek Malcolm

There is a certain sense, perhaps, that it is going for the glory of award recognition. It is possibly too polished on occasion. But Winslet’s intricate performance and Daldry’s skills of persuasion make it a worthy memorial to its producers, Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella, the values of whose own films it faithfully replicates.

18/12/2008

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The Daily Express

Allan Hunter

Director Stephen (Billy Elliot) Daldry makes The Reader a film that appeals to the intellect rather than tug at the heartstrings. He drains the movie of false melodrama. It has the feel of testimony that is obliged only to record the facts and let the viewer supply their own emotions. The result is thought-provoking and beautifully acted, especially by an Oscar-worthy Winslet. Ultimately, it asserts that the power of love is stronger than the power of hatred and that’s not a bad lesson on which to start the year.

02/01/2009

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Channel 4 Film

Neil Smith

Thanks to David Kross's fine performance as Michael and Winslet's terrific one as Hanna, the first half of Daldry's drama is full of charged sensuality and compelling mystery... Visually The Reader is a treat, twin cinematographers Roger Deakins and Chris Menges steeping the film in nostalgic sepia tones that give way to a bleak, elemental austerity. In a way, though, their painterly control only creates additional distance between the movie and the viewer, making it hard for us to respond emotionally to material that always feels aimed at the head, not the heart.

23/04/2009

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The Mirror

Mark Adams

The book, published in 1995, struck a chord with its link to the Holocaust. It is a sensitive subject, but screenwriter David Hare and director Stephen Daldry have done a terrific job giving us a story that is engrossing, moving and thought-provoking... The Reader is a thoughtful and absorbing film, which is packed with delicately-structured twists and punctuated with truly impressive performances.

28/12/2009

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Total Film

Jane Crowther

Pleasingly adult material powered by elegant, muscular performances. A strong adaptation of a slippery novel.

02/01/2009

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Time Magazine

Richard Schickel

The story dares to hint at a certain smugness in the attitudes of its victims, which is something we are not at all used to in movies of this kind. And as a romance, at times feverish and at other times grim, the film works surprisingly well. There's something gripping about the relationship between this ill-assorted pair, and something touching about the way events beyond their control or understanding reach out to blight their lives.

10/12/2009

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Time Out

Dave Calhoun

David Hare’s unshowy, thoughtful screenplay, Stephen Daldry’s unfussy direction and Roger Deakins and Chris Menges’s impressive cinematography are faithful to the detail and tenor of Schlink’s novel, which is a complex beast in simple clothing. ‘The Reader’ has been called a Holocaust film but that’s not entirely accurate. It would be better tagged a post-Holocaust work as it pitches itself between the known facts of that cataclysm and the unanswerable philosophical questions of its fallout relating to responsibility, law, justice and forgiveness; all the while considering education, and literacy, as crucial to those debates.

01/01/2009

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The Los Angeles Times

Kenneth Turan

It's taken this long to get "The Reader" to the screen in part because of the exigencies of the movie business and in part because it is not the simplest story to film. Though it has a potent story, "The Reader" is easily as philosophical as it is melodramatic, as deeply involved with what goes on in the mind of its narrator as it is in what he does. In attempting to solve this problem, screenwriter (and accomplished playwright) David Hare and director Stephen Daldry ("The Hours") have in part frittered away the story's emotional force. It is only, frankly, the strength of Winslet's performance that rises above conventional surroundings and makes "The Reader" the experience it should be.

11/12/2008

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The Daily Mail

Chris Tookey

Kate Winslet is the reason to see the sombre, understated, literary The Reader, which has touching moments but never delivers on its early promise... The failure of the film is that it never lives up to her performance. It refuses to grapple with the issues, preferring instead to mope around and gaze into space, while the plaintively obtrusive score tells us how classy and important it all is. Daldry's direction is one-paced and lacks flair, but the big problem is the thin screenplay. Hare's poor adaptation makes unnecessary leaps forward and backward in time, and never draws a strong dramatic link between its four main themes - illicit sex, Nazism, illiteracy and guilt.

01/01/2009

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The New York Times

Manohla Dargis

You could argue that the film isn’t really about the Holocaust, but about the generation that grew up in its shadow, which is what the book insists. But the film is neither about the Holocaust nor about those Germans who grappled with its legacy: it’s about making the audience feel good about a historical catastrophe that grows fainter with each new tasteful interpolation.

10/12/2008

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The Observer

Philip French

The Reader is an exemplary piece of filmmaking, superbly acted by Kate Winslet, David Kross and Ralph Fiennes, beautifully lit by two of Britain's finest cinematographers (Roger Deakins and Chris Menges) and sensitively directed by Stephen Daldry from a screenplay by David Hare... Scene by scene, we're gripped, but the metaphor is elusive, the narrative unconvincing and the overall effect vague and unpersuasive. The key clicks smoothly in the lock but no doors of perception open up.

04/01/2009

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Scotland on Sunday

Soibhan Synot

Hoarders of large narrative signposts can also add The Reader's to their collection, because the film does like to flag its ideas in advance in a manner that is rather reductive... It's still an involving film, with none of the crassness of The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas earlier this year. It's also provocative... well worth seeing; the kind of film you're bound to chew on for days afterwards. It's just that you're likely to wonder why the impact of its monumental issues of crime, guilt, complicity, and conscience don't resonate even more.

28/12/2008

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Empire Magazine

Kim Newman

Stephen Daldry’s third film as director seems as calculated as Billy Elliot and The Hours to figure in awards nominations — the performances are outstanding and the subject matter demands respect — but it’s a cold fish of a film, and slow enough to leave audiences time to ponder its gaping plot-holes once the central mystery is solved... The epitome of middle-brow ‘quality’ drama — admirable within its limitations, but Bernard Schlink’s Oprah Winfrey Book Club-approved book wasn’t exactly literature, as this isn’t exactly cinema.

05/01/2009

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The Independent on Sunday

Jonathon Romney

What happens to Michael is more a political and philosophical matter: a young German's realisation that he needs to look beyond his cushioned post-war world, and to ask questions about history and the nature of law. The Reader hooks you with sex in order to get you thinking about ethics...The trouble is, though, that this doesn't leave the film with a great deal to show us... the result is honourable, studious, a little flat.

04/01/2009

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The Financial Times

Nigel Andres

The film sets out to track the scent of guilt to its lair, the human heart, and to re-map the verities of crime and innocence. Yet as soon as this new agenda begins – such are the hazards of the didactic – life and spontaneity start exiting the screen. When Ralph Fiennes, as the older Michael, takes the baton from Kross, the handover is fumbled. “This isn’t even the same character!” we think. One moment he was a kid with Galahad glow and out-there pout. Ten years later he is creepy-lovable Ralph, with his sly, evasive lips and air of hibernated timelessness.

01/01/2009

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Variety

Todd McCarthy

Stephen Daldry’s film is sensitively realized and dramatically absorbing, but comes across as an essentially cerebral experience without gut impact. Classy package will appeal to upscale specialized auds and the bookish set but pic will have trouble crossing over to the general public Stateside. Offshore prospects look stronger.

30/11/2008

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The Daily Telegraph

Mike McCahill

Schlink was writing a love story as dead end: difficult to adapt, even harder for anyone actually to have to sit through. Late on in the film, the adult Michael (Ralph Fiennes, at his most remote) encounters a Holocaust survivor (Lena Olin) who insists 'nothing good came out of the camps': that's the film's thesis, too, requiring the suppression of any and all emotions. The revelation of evil not only confounds the characters here; it numbs the film, stifles whatever wayward life it once had in it.

31/12/2009

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The Daily Telegraph

Sukhdev Sandhu

It also refuses to package itself as an outraged, emotion-tugging drama about the Holocaust. None of the characters represents either good or evil; the way they recall and speak about the past is functional almost to the point of banality. The ending offers no catharsis or moral lessons that the audience can take home... The characters rarely face off. They rarely confront or challenge each other. And because the film never risks disrupting the all-pervasive mood of stately good taste it struggles to shift into second gear. And if its makers can’t get animated by such a powerful story, what chance that we will?

02/01/2009

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The Times

Wendy Ide

It's to the film's detriment that so much time is dedicated to this late period of the story. Winslet's fierce, intensely felt performance is obliterated by an unsuccessful make-up job that fails to age her and instead just makes her look weird and flaky. Fiennes's awkward, buttoned-up version of Michael is difficult to reconcile with the younger, more open characterisation delivered by David Kross. And it becomes increasingly unclear what the film is actually about: personal and national guilt? Romantic trauma? Or the transformative power of the written word?

01/01/2009

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The Sunday Times

Cosmo Landesman

Its main problem is that it simply fails to come alive dramatically. We never really get to know these characters and come to care for them. They are generic figures — young man in love, beautiful woman with a secret. The film never shows us what is lovable about Hanna, so we cannot share Michael’s ambiguity about her and thus care about her fate. Despite being a love story, The Reader is a cold, cerebral work, a moral debate dolled up in the fancy dress of film.

04/01/2009

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The Independent

Anthony Quinn

Can a single performance redeem a whole movie? Heaven knows Kate Winslet does her damnedest to wrestle with the contradictions of The Reader, adapted from the novel by Bernhard Schlink, and it would be no great injustice if she carried off an award for it. But there comes a point in its contorted narrative when even her noble efforts fail to conceal the dramatic cracks, let alone the moral ones. These flaws are the inevitable result of film-making that privileges tastefulness over truthfulness.

02/01/2009

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The Spectator

Deborah Ross

This is one of those narratives that, I suspect, would like to think of itself as the sort that embeds deeply complex moral questions into a highly personal story, but I wonder. I wonder not that these questions, most of which relate to post-second world war German guilt and shame, are there — after all, Bruno Ganz, playing Michael’s law professor, is on hand to remind us clumsily every now and then — but whether the answers, as posited, aren’t just too fatuous for words. At various points we are asked to pity Hanna; to pity her as a victim of the Nazi regime, as well as a victim of her own particular secret. Well, I didn’t, just as I don’t pity unrepentant SS operatives generally.

12/12/2008

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The New Yorker

Anthony Lane

The British director Stephen Daldry made a splash with “The Hours,” and this new film is no less worthy, ambitious, and exasperating. The screenwriter, once again, is David Hare, who fillets the bestselling novel by Bernhard Schlink. For all Hare’s expertise, however, we are stuck with the unsavory pretensions of the original tale... Daldry takes things painfully slowly, not helped by a sappy score, and we are encouraged to muse upon the cultural shortcomings, or improvements, in the life of an aging member of the S.S. This is not an issue that most of us feel the need to worry about.

22/12/2008

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The Guardian

Peter Bradshaw

Kate Winslet thus participates in the Hollywood tradition of having the Nazi played by a Brit; she is very good, and in fact no purely technical objections could conceivably be levelled in any direction. But I can't forgive this film for being so shallow and so obtuse on such a subject, and I can't accept it as a parable for war-guilt-by-association suffered by goodish Germans of the next generation. Under the gloss of high production value, under the sheen of hardback good taste, there is something naive and glib and meretricious. It left a very strange taste in my mouth.

02/01/2009

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