Monday, February 16, 2009

The Reader

How can a movie based in post-Holocaust Germany possibly be enjoyable?
Well, The Reader is not a lot of fun to watch, but it is thought-provoking and moderately touching at points.
The crux of the story is a love affair between a teenage boy and a grown woman. Michael (David Kross as the younger, Ralph Fiennes when he is grown up) meets Hanna (Kate Winslet in her multiple-award winning role) when she helps him as he falls ill in front of her apartment.
This chance meeting is followed by a couple of awkward encounters brought by him trying to thank her for her kindness. Hanna is a domineering woman who gruffly accepts his thanks and then aggressively seduces the boy. Not that seducing a 15-year-old boy is all that tough.
The affair lasts a summer as he neglects his friends and family for a woman who is mistaken by a stranger to be his mother. Hanna makes Michael read to her each time they meet up as a part of the intimacy that grows to seem more important to her than the physical side.
She abruptly disappears from his life and he begrudgingly returns to the life of a teenager.
A few years later he is a law student who happens to be witnessing a trial of five women being accused of atrocities that occurred during WWII. One of the women is his former flame, Hanna.
While the subject matter of anything surrounding the Holocaust is always treated with a certain gravitas, The Reader takes itself even more seriously than it probably should.
This story framed by any other crime would probably not get the attention from critics that this film is getting.
That is the tough part of making a movie from a subject matter that holds this harsh of a place in human history, finding a story within the epic framework that can hold the dramatic weight it needs to not be overshadowed completely by the historical facts.
The dramatic climax is a bit of a letdown as the buildup feels like it is heading towards something more intense.
The performances are all solid, but again, probably would not be getting the attention if not for the framework of the Holocaust behind it.
The Reader delivers enough to maintain the audience's interest, but falls short of being the epic Holocaust drama that it's makers clearly envisioned it to be. They get a B- for the effort.
--John Berry, online editor--

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