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Not an Easy Read

15 Feb

A movie that explores guilt, secrets, and an illicit affair between an older woman and a younger man, The Reader certainly is provocative. The film tells the story of Michael Berg (played by David Kross and Ralph Fiennes), who meets Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet) in 1958, when he is only 15, and begins an affair with her that lasts a summer. Hanna is turned on when Michael reads to her, so he pleasures her by reading The Odyssey, Huckleberry Finn, and other books. Then one day Hanna disappears. When she resurfaces 10 years later, she is on trial for crimes committed when she was a guard during the Holocaust. Michael, now a law student, must grapple with what he knows about Hanna, and must decide whether to divulge a secret that could hold the key to whether Hanna is found innocent or guilty.

In her Oscar-nominated role, Winslet is quite good. Maybe not blow-you-away good, but she’s quite effective in the role of a mysterious woman who puts her personal pride ahead of all else. (She’s as good here as she is in Revolutionary Road). I wish she looked more believable, though; when Hanna is older, she still looks like the 33-year-old Winslet, just with a lot of obviously caked-on makeup. Kross is also very good, but it takes a leap of faith to believe his aging as well; he looks the same at 15 as he does at 25, and then at 35 all of a sudden he looks like Ralph Fiennes.

Makeup aside, The Reader is a very good movie and I liked it. I thought the premise could have been handled differently, in a way that would have been more dramatic, but the high-minded, quiet tone here reflects Hannah’s inner turmoil and Michael’s conflicted feelings well. I felt uncomfortable being sympathetic toward Hanna, and I think that’s more a problem of casting, because Winslet doesn’t make it easy to dislike her, no matter how good her performance is.

Also, since I saw The Reader so late, after the Oscar nominations had been announced, I couldn’t help but judge it with its accolades in mind. Would I have named it one of the top five films of the year? No. The Dark Knight should have gotten The Reader‘s slot. This is a good movie to be sure, but I’m only going to give it a B+.

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