Distributed By: The Weinstein Company
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
After reading the novel and listening to the soundtrack, I had already made up my mind that I simply had to see The Reader. Hearing me discuss it at work, a co-worker leant me her copy of the film. I couldn’t wait to watch what was sure to be an angst-ridden rollercoaster ride of emotion.
The Reader stars Ralph Fiennes as Michael Berg, a middle-aged man who can’t seem to allow anyone to get close to him. Even his own daughter has difficulty reaching him. We begin to learn the reason behind his distance as he thinks back to his teenage years. When Michael was sixteen (David Kross), a young woman found him vomiting in front of her apartment building. Upon learning that this woman helped Michael clean off and then walked him home, his mother decides that he should go to this woman’s apartment to thank her properly. There is an instant attraction between the two and Michael soon finds himself involved in an intense romantic relationship with Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet). As the relationship progresses, Michael learns that Hanna likes to be read to and each time he visits, he makes sure to bring a book with him. A year later, Hanna has disappeared and Michael has no idea why or how to find her.
Some time later, Michael is in law school, attending the Nazi trials when he comes across Hanna again in the most shocking way – Hanna is one of the defendants. Hanna was a concentration camp guard during the war and is now charged with the deaths of prisoners under her care. As obsessed with Hanna as he was when he was a teenager, Michael follows every step of the trial and soon discovers that Hanna is hiding a secret that would have a major impact on the outcome of the trial. Should he reveal the secret, or allow Hanna to keep private the one thing that could possibly save her from prison?
The movie was just as much an emotional rollercoaster ride as I found the novel to be. However, I did find some differences between the book and the novel. First of all, we do read about Michael’s failed marriage and his daughter, but we never actually meet him as the book focuses more on Michael and how his relationship with Hanna affected him. In the movie, his daughter is the whole reason for delving back into this painful experience that has made Michael the closed off person he has become. There are some scenes that I thought were rather poignant in the novel that were replaced in this film. They occur on Michael and Hanna’s trip to the country. Although I found the church scene to be very dramatic and an excellent example of foreshadowing – you’ll find yourself saying, “Oh, that’s why she was behaving like that,” after you experience the trial scenes – there was a scene from the book that I thought should have been included. Perhaps they didn’t include it because they felt it would give to much away about the ending, but I felt it was a rather important part of the novel that offers foreshadowing into later events.
Despite the differences, I found the movie version of The Reader to be absolutely enjoyable. As someone who often enjoys films in which characters go through things in their youth that have a dramatic affect on their adult lives, I loved the angst and emotion present throughout this film. The story also provides a bit of a mystery for you to unravel using clues hidden throughout the film. Kate Winslet is incredible as Hanna Schmitz – just as I pictured her to be in the novel. After this film, I predict that David Kross will have no problem finding work as an actor. In fact, I’m fairly certain he will be offered his pick of juicy dramatic roles in the future. Ralph Fiennes turns in a perfect performance as usual. It is interesting to note that Fiennes portrayed a horrific Nazi in charge of a concentration camp in Schindler’s List.
I mentioned earlier that I had reviewed the musical score of The Reader as composed by Nico Muhly. Hearing the music apart from the movie and enjoying it is one thing. Hearing the musical score while watching the film is quite a different experience. I now see that the music composed by Muhly for this film was perfect in every way. The music enhances the emotions expressed in every scene of the film.
One thing that I do want to make clear about this film - as terrific a movie as this is, The Reader is definitely not a film for children. There is a great deal of nudity and the film is sexually explicit. The scenes are tastefully done, but if you have a problem with sexually explicit movies you should stay away from The Reader. Of course, if this stuff is not offensive to you and you can look past it or incorporate it into the amazing storyline, then, by all means, check this film out.
There is no doubt in my mind that The Reader is well-deserving of all the awards it was nominated for. Kate Winslet won numerous awards for her portrayal of Hanna Schmitz, including her very first Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role. Many others were considered for this role, but I believe that Kate Winslet was perfect for this role. In fact, I think this is the best performance I have ever seen from Kate Winslet.
In closing, I can honestly say that I now love everything about The Reader experience. The novel was a recommendation from my dentist that set me on this path. I enjoyed the experience so much that I was more than happy to receive the soundtrack for review. Listening to the soundtrack and reading the novel inspired me to see the film, an equally enjoyable experience. I recommend checking out all three! Read the novel, listen to the soundtrack and most definitely, see the movie adaptation of The Reader!