The Reader * * * * ½
Directed by: Stephen Daldry / 2008
Sympathy For The Devil…
I’m sure that a lot of 81st Academy Awards viewers were wondering where in the world “The Reader” came from, and/or what it was other than, “Oh, that movie that helped Kate Winslet finally win an Oscar.” I didn’t hear about the movie until mid-December as it seemed to slip under the radar to lock-down the Best Picture nomination that “The Dark Knight” would have probably gobbled up. I’m not complaining though, as the quiet-yet-hard hitting lust/love and literacy story was better on my eyes than the new billion dollar Batman franchise.
Don’t worry I’m not going to give anything away as I know how splendidly it unfolded for me going in blind. I’ll just set the story up. Its 1958 Neustadt, Germany as a 15-year-old boy stumbles in the rain, sick and out of bounds in the entrance to an apartment building. An older woman attends to him, cleans up his vomit and aids to his sickness, sending young Michael Berg on home to get better. After three months in bed with scarlet fever, he is eager to get back to school and back to the apartment building to thank the kind woman who helped him. Her name is Hanna Schmitz and she comes with what seems to be a big bag of complexities, and especially so to 15-year-old Michael. Its lust at first site for both and perhaps naïve love for him. Despite her being twice his age, the two quickly strike up a summertime affair that involves lots of bed sheets, bath tubs, bicycle trips and very tender sessions where Michael reads aloud to her (a little hint to the film’s title). But, it’s all a season’s fire to rage the rest of their lives.
“The Reader” will definitely have you walking out looking for fire…as in, some sunlight. It’s a downer and with few lighthearted moments. My first thoughts knew it was a good movie, but I wasn’t certain if it was Best Picture caliber because it’s not necessarily a movie that can be seen repeated times (a priority for me with such a high honor, though "Schindler's List" I could watch twice a month, go figure). I want to read "The Reader" now instead of seeing the movie a second time. Though, upon further inspection, and you will be inspecting over and over what you’ve just seen, it’s a very remarkable, worthwhile story that needed to be told. It will get you thinking and talking and that’s what good movies should do. At times it questions your own once-thought hardnosed ethics and morals, causing a fine line to be drawn and casting a card to sympathy in the most unlikely of candidates and circumstances.
It is subtle in style, yet not in its exploration of the sex-capades of Michael and Hanna. In fact, their secret lust action consumes much of the first half of the film and with a bold stamp. Even as a male I was thinking, “OK, how many more angles on Kate Winslet’s naked body will I see today? Oh, that’s a new one…her scanning the water hole in a drenched, see-thru bra.” It’s a well-crafted, well-played story, but I think that director Stephen Daldry should have scaled back on the sex some. Or, maybe the intension was to be completely carnal? Though, I can’t help but think of how beautifully and artfully director Zhang Yimou handled the two-to-tango in his magnificent “Ju Dou”, and every time I see a movie that misses for me in the bedroom I think of that one. I wonder how much more sensual and suggestive the character’s actions would have appeared behind the beautiful hanging curtain dividers in the apartment or through the many panes of frosted glass that the camera seems drawn to in other scenes. It would have also suggested that there is something buried and burdened behind this sexual act, which one indeed finds out come the film’s second act.