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Thoughts on "The Reader" . . .

Posted by 2 Dollar Productions Monday, February 16, 2009

Worth Full-Price, Matinee or Rental: Matinee or rental. This film would make a fine rental unless you're trying to round out watching this year's Oscar nominees in the theater. In that case, a matinee is still a good value for "The Reader."

Will I Own It On DVD: No. I'm glad to have seen "The Reader," however, this is a hard, little movie with subject matter that doesn't make for overly pleasant viewing time and again.

1) "The Reader" spans several decades during its running time of two hours, although it mainly chronicles one summer which dramatically changes the life of a 15-year-old German boy due to his affair with an older woman - Kate Winslet - who later joins the Nazi party as a security officer to hide a secret.

That description doesn't entirely cover the film as one of the virtues of "The Reader" is its ability to wallow in gray areas, leaving viewers to sort through situations which often offer no easy answers.

2) The summer itself is nearly ideal, a utopia where a teenage boy luckily stumbles into a situation where he spends all his waking hours having sex, bathing and reading stories to Winslet's character, who demands all three nearly every time they are together. She derives great pleasure from these pursuits, but never reveals anything about herself.

3) Unfortunately, this affair proves to be too much of a good thing because it utterly consumes the life of the boy, who is played as an adult by Ralph Fiennes. After the affair ends, he doesn't see Winslet until his time at law school where he attends a trial of several Nazi guards, including Winslet's character and the reunion tears him apart for many years to come.

4) Winslet gives an outstanding performance in "The Reader." I enjoyed her work here far more than her showier role in "Revolutionary Road," and I'm glad she received the Best Actress nomination for this one. Her character - Hannah - is reserved and prideful and Winslet never makes a false step along the way. Her role is also vanity free as she wears little to no make-up (until they need to age her for the story), and she doesn't shy away from the nudity which is essential for the plot.

Fiennes gives an excellent performance as well, although his screen time is far smaller than Winslet's due to large parts of the movie being told in flashbacks.

5) Overall, “The Reader” is a very good film. That being said, I don’t feel it deserves to be up for Best Picture this year as both “The Wrestler” and “The Dark Knight” were superior films in my opinion. The central conceit or secret of Winslet’s character didn’t entirely work for me in terms of guiding her decisions, although it wasn’t wholly unbelievable either.

I always feel that any film which deals with the atrocities of the Holocaust automatically starts with high marks due to the subject matter, and this head start makes it less of a stretch to declare them great versus merely very good.

“The Reader” is a worthwhile project, a fine acting showcase and it earns credit for sketching its subject matter in complex tones. It deserves to be seen, but I don’t feel that it is quite good enough to be one of the five best movies of the year.



  1. JLee Says:
  2. I haven't heard much about this one, but it looks interesting nonetheless with a good lead cast. I just saw Fiennes in "Red Dragon" which I rented this weekend and I was just thinking that he needed to do something new.

  3. Heff Says:
  4. Are there any movies where Kate Winslet DOESN'T portray a whore ?

  5. Linda Says:
  6. Excellent review. This is a tough one to like, but has so many strong points. I don't get the Oscar nom either. You are dead on when you say The Wrestler or Dark Knight were more worthy for best picture. Glad you didn't reveal Hannah's shame. That, and the effect of the affair on the boy were so essential to their motivations.

  7. Jlee - It was a small movie that built momentum late, and started getting more press once the Oscars were announced. I had forgotten about 'Red Dragon' entirely as I saw it in the theater, but don't recall too much about it.

    Heff - I enjoy the fact that she doesn't hesitate to get naked. But that's just me. Ha.

    Linda - Thanks as I definitely didn't want to reveal her shame, although I went back and forth many times about how I felt about the plot device. I just didn't quite buy that her feelings about that issue would allow her to get in such a bad prediciment (sp?), but maybe I'm wrong. And yes, I enjoyed the movie, but got a little irritated that it was nominated over those other films (and maybe a few others).

  8. Miss Ash Says:
  9. I am interested in seeing this film yay!!

    I think you should review Coraline!

  10. nobich Says:
  11. I had no idea what this movie was about the trailers seemed vague. But now I want to see it.
    Thanks for the review.

  12. Buddy Says:
  13. I read the book a few years ago and loved it so much I've decided to pass on seeing the movie. It discusses so many things Americans have never had to deal with; specifically Germany after the War. Millions of people working through the guilt/shame of Hilter's reign. Beautifully written and I just can't stand to see Hollywood put their spin on it. I do love Kate Winslet, however.

    Did your wife get to pick a movie because it was Valentine's Day? ;-)

  14. Boxer Says:
  15. Buddy is me, I was messing with another Blogger.


  16. Miss Ash - Wow. You've heard of it, and want to see it . . . then you should do just that. Ha. As for 'Coraline,' I've read good things about it, but I have a really hard time with anything animated, so it seems unlikely.

    Nobich - No problem. I would have a hard time showcasing this film in a trailer as I don't recall seeing one now that you mention it. I had a difficult time trying to nail the plot in the review, which is usually fairly easy.

    Buddy Boxer - Of course, I remembered the picture so I assumed Buddy was you, but thanks for the clarification. I didn't realize this was based on a book until after I saw the movie, and now I'm trying to decide about reading it or not. If I love a book, then the movie never fully measures up, but they do a good job with this one, so you might need to give it a whirl on DVD sometime.

  17. Romany Angel Says:
  18. Brilliantly written review as always B.

    I would go and see anything with Kate Winslet in it as I think she is a great actress with no vanity whatsoever. The story sounds quite complicated and intriguing, right up my alley.

    I will definitely make an effort to see this one.

  19. kmwthay Says:
  20. I left this movie feeling awful. I admit, I like a bit of the 'feel good' feeling - but man, this movie sucked my will to live.

  21. vivavavoom Says:
  22. Kate Winslet is just so beautiful! great review....hey...I nominated you for a lemon award btw.
    hope all is well. thanks for the attitude and great blog!

  23. Romany Angel - "complicated and intriguing," I think you nailed 'The Reader' with that description. If the story sounds reasonable, then I would say you definitely check it out since you like Winslet as much as I do. She is always worth watching.

    Kmwthay - I agree about not leaving 'The Reader' feeling particularly good about life in general. I think I overhyped myself going into this one about the material, so my mood wasn't nearly as black as when I left 'Revolutionary Road.' The latter one was definitely a "feel bad" type of film.

    Vivavavoom - I agree 100% about Winslet as I think she is always great-looking, and seems like a reasonable person, which is saying something in Hollywood. Thank you for the Lemonade nod as I really appreciate it, and I promise to get more regular in my reading habits again out in the community as I have been pretty damn horrible since the start of the year.

  24. Kate Winslet naked? That's all I needed to hear. I'll see it ;-)

  25. Boxer Says:
  26. I saw Coraline last week with my Nephew and some friends. Very creepy and good. I generally stay away from animation too, but this might be worth seeing. The Nephew loved it, our friends said it was almost too dark. Kinda WIZARD of OZ Monkey-Creepy is what we decided.

  27. CHEF TROLL Says:
  28. Sounds really ghey.

  29. Native Minnow - I try to provide all the pros and the cons of a particular movie. That aspect was a definitely in the pro category. Ha.

    Boxer - Thanks for the tip, especially if you are also leery of animated films. I heard 'Wall-E' was great, however, I just couldn't get myself out to see it. And I completely agree about those scary-ass monkeys in the 'Wizard of Oz' as they still creep me out.

    TheTroll - Actually, it is all heterosexual sex during the film. I'm can't comment on the book as I haven't read it.


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