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Stephen Daldry
Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, Jeanette Hain, David Kross, Susanne Lothar, Alissa Wilms, Florian Bartholomäi, Friederike Becht, Matthias Habich, Frieder Venus
Writing Credits:
David Hare, Bernhard Schlink (book)

How far would you go to protect a secret?

The Reader, set in post-WWII Germany, follows teenager Michael Berg as he engages in a passionate but secretive affair with an older woman named Hanna. Eight years after Hanna's disappearance, Michael is stunned to discover her again as she stands on trial for Nazi war crimes. The Reader is a haunting story about truth and reconciliation and how one generation comes to terms with the crimes of another.

Box Office:
$32 million.
Opening Weekend
$168.051 thousand on 8 screens.
Domestic Gross
$34.006 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 124 min.
Price: $29.95
Release Date: 4/14/2009

• Deleted Scenes
• “Adapting a Timeless Masterpiece: Making The Reader” Featurette
• “A Conversation with David Kross and Stephen Daldry” Featurette
• “Kate Winslet On the Art of Aging Hanna Schmitz” Featurette
• “A New Voice: A Look at Composer Nico Muhly” Featurette
• “Coming to Grips With the Past: Production Designer Brigitte Broch” Featurette
• Trailer
• Sneak Peeks


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The Reader (2008)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 22, 2009)

Of the five films that received Best Picture nominees for 2008, The Reader came as the biggest surprise. It didn’t receive the most glowing reviews, so few expected it to make much of an Oscars impact. It was the most controversial nomination as well, for the movie’s subject matter didn’t sit well with some.

We start in West Germany circa 1958, where The Reader concentrates on 15-year-old Michael Berg (David Kross). He takes seriously ill, and after he recuperates, he goes to formally thank the woman who helped him at a time of need. This soon leads to a romantic affair between the 30-something Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet) and the teen boy.

While this relationship focuses on carnal pleasures at first, it eventually develops into something more cerebral when Hanna has Michael read various books to her as a form of foreplay. Michael embraces the combination of sex and literature, and for a while, the relationship prospers. However, the pair eventually drift, and Hanna moves without any prior notice to Michael.

With that the story jumps ahead to 1966 and finds Michael in law school. As a class assignment, he attends a trial for Nazi war criminals. The first defendant he sees? Hanna. The film follows these events and their impact on Michael’s life, including views of 52-year-old Michael (Ralph Fiennes) in the mid-90s.

In the very first episode of Extras, Winslet played herself – sort of. Like all the cameos in that series, Winslet portrayed a less than laudable version of herself. In this case, Winslet was supposed to be acting as a heroic nun in a Holocaust flick. The following dialogue appeared:

Andy Millman: ”I think, you know, you doing this is so commendable - you know, using your profile to keep the message alive about the Holocaust.”

Kate Winslet: “My God, I'm not doing it for that. And I don't think we really need another film about the Holocaust, do we? It's like, how many have there been? You know, we get it - it was grim, move on. No, I'm doing it because I've noticed that if you do a film about the Holocaust - guaranteed Oscar!”

Oh, the irony – irony I’m sure wasn’t lost on Winslet herself. I wonder if she felt any reluctance to do The Reader due to her role on Extras; undoubtedly she knew her cameo would be brought up in connection with the flick.

Of course, Hanna offers a very different character than the super-nun of Extras. Hanna escorted thousands of people to their deaths, so she presents a role more complex than the stock Oskar Schindler-style do-gooder.

Or she should give us a more three-dimensional role. On paper, that’s what we deserve, but in reality, Hanna’s not got much happening. The movie’s estimation of her apparent intellect seems to vary all over the place. Sometimes she seems quite smart, while on other occasions, she plummets to Gump levels.

And I don’t feel this way due to the film’s “revelation” that Hanna can’t read. (I put “revelation” in quotes because the movie telegraphs this information in a variety of clumsy ways before it finally reveals it.) Hanna comes across as the Wise Older Woman when she romances Michael, but then she looks like a brain dead stooge in court. We’re never quite sure what her actual level of intellect is, and the movie suffers for it.

The film’s biggest issue – and its main cause of controversy – stems from the rather sympathetic manner in which it portrays Hanna. Some believe that Nazis don’t deserve to be painted as anything other than cruel monsters – and to some degree, I find it hard to argue against that idea. I felt the same way when I watched Tora! Tora! Tora!: some acts are so heinous that I don’t know if it’s appropriate to paint the perpetrators in a more human light.

This is what Reader does with Hanna, and I think it goes too far - way too far. At no point does Hanna do much of anything to take responsibility for her actions. She claims she had no choice, she just followed orders, blah blah blah.

And she might’ve been right. It’s very easy for us to condemn those placed in her position, but the truth is that most people probably would’ve done the same thing. There’s a real debate that can be waged about how much culpability the “day to day” Nazis had.

The Reader totally fails to explore these issues. It just paints Hanna as a sad victim. Indeed, it almost makes those who judge her look like the baddies. As they shout “murderer!” at Hanna, we’re supposed to feel sorry her and view the accusers as cruel and intolerant.

Even if we agree that those workaday Nazis deserve some form of understanding – or even absolution, if you’d like – I think The Reader goes too far in the wrong direction. Again, we see very little admission of guilt or responsibility on Hanna’s part, and the movie tries too hard to portray her as a victim. A more balanced portrait would’ve been much more effective – and less distasteful - than this gloppy fare. <{> Winslet does fine as Hanna, though I think she might be a bit too attractive for the part. Oh, the film frumps her up, but she still has a little too much star power to represent the kind of middle-aged Miss Lonelyhearts Hanna appears to be. Winslet tries her best to give Hanna depth and heart, but she just can’t overcome the various script and storytelling weaknesses.

I think she fares better than the Dueling Michaels, though. The characters come across as total non-entities, and the respective actors do little to elevate matters. Fiennes probably offers the stronger performance, but he’s saddled with the weakest parts of the script. Really, once the movie leaves “Young Michael”, it falters. The film veers into melodrama prior to that point, but it goes over the top when Poor Illiterate Hanna Learns to Read. Fiennes is stuck with the sappiest moments.

Of which we find many. Frankly, I could never quite figure out what The Reader wanted to achieve. Another “coming of age” story but with an insidious twist? An indication that Nazis are human, too? Melodramatic Oscar bait? The latter feels most logical to me, and I guess it worked. None of this means that The Reader is an effective, involving film, however.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus C

The Reader appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The transfer offered good but somewhat inconsistent visuals.

In general, sharpness looked fine. I noticed some tentative elements due to light edge enhancement, and wide shots could be a bit iffy. Nonetheless, the majority of the flick provided good clarity and definition. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but I did notice a handful of small specks. The movie could also be a tad grainy at times, though not to a significant degree.

Colors remained subdued. The movie tended toward a palette that went on the chilly side of natural tones. The hues matched the film’s setting and atmosphere well. Blacks were dense and firm, while shadows provided good delineation. The mild softness left this as a “B” presentation.

As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Reader, it was satisfying. I didn’t expect a broad soundscape from a character drama of this sort, but the material opened up the settings in a positive manner. The vast majority of the information came from environmental elements like construction sites and traffic. These created a good sense of place and meshed together in a pleasing manner. The surrounds contributed good reinforcement and added to the impression left by the audio.

Quality was quite good. Speech always appeared natural and concise, without edginess or other issues. Music sounded warm and full, and effects came across well. Those components didn’t exactly tax my sound system, but they were dynamic and distinctive. Given the mild scope of the piece, this ended up as a “B” soundtrack.

With that we head to the set’s supplements. 11 Deleted Scenes run a total of 42 minutes, eight seconds. That’s a lot of cut footage, though the majority simply extend sequences found in the final film. Only a few provide entirely new segments, and not much of what we see seems consequential.

Actually, I’d contend that none of it qualifies as “consequential”, and only a few scenes are even moderately interesting. The most compelling shows Michael’s attempts to get Hanna to spend that night at his parents’ house. Otherwise, we find more of Michael reading to Hanna, more of Hanna learning to read, and more general exposition. Don’t expect anything more involving than that.

Five featurettes follow. Adapting a Timeless Masterpiece: Making The Reader goes for 23 minutes, one second and includes remarks from director Stephen Daldry, author Bernhard Schlink, screenwriter David Hare, producer Donna Gigliotti, and actors Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross, and Lena Olin. The show covers the original novel and its adaptation for the screen as well as aspects of the project’s development. We also learn about cast and performances, Daldry’s approach to the film, and its themes.

Based on the title, I expected lots of information about the source book and how the movie translated it to the screen. Unfortunately, “Timeless” instead offers little more than the standard promotional featurette. Oh, it’s a little longer and more introspective than most, but not by a wide margin. It gives us a reasonable number of decent details, but it lacks the insight I hoped to find, especially because I really wanted to learn more specifics about the script and novel.

Actor and director reappear in the nine-minute and 46-second A Conversation with David Kross and Stephen Daldry. In addition to those two, we get a few comments from Winslet, We learn a bit about Kross’s casting and performance, rehearsal and preparation. Daldry doesn’t chat about his own work, as this one focuses almost exclusively on Kross. And that’s fine, as we discover a smattering of interesting notes about his experiences during the shoot.

For more about the lead actor’s work, we head to Kate Winslet On the Art of Aging Hanna Schmitz. This piece fills 12 minutes, 49 seconds and features info from Winslet, Daldry, makeup and hair designer Ivana Primorac, prosthetic makeup designer Matthew Smith, and prosthetics artist Pauline Fowler. We see Winslet go through the makeup process and see various stages. In addition to plenty of good details, Winslet’s light and lively banter makes this a fun show.

A New Voice: A Look at Composer Nico Muhly lasts four minutes, seven seconds and provides remarks from Muhly and Daldry. Expect a few insights into the score and some shots of the recording session but not much more than that.

Finally, Coming to Grips With the Past: Production Designer Brigitte Broch goes for seven minutes, 20 seconds and boasts notes from Daldry, Broch, and Hare. We learn about the film’s visual design and shooting in Germany. The most interesting aspects of “Grips” relate to Broch’s own history, as we learn that she left Germany in the 60s due to issues reflected in the film. The program mixes those personal elements with good production notes.

A few ads open the DVD. We get clips for the Hole in the Wall Camps, Boy A, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona. The disc also provides the trailer for Reader.

Too much “Afterschool Special”, not enough real drama, The Reader disappoints. It takes complex subject matter and simplifies in an unappealing manner. The DVD provides reasonably good picture and audio along with an average set of supplements. I think the story has potential, but the film falls far short of its goals.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.6842 Stars Number of Votes: 19
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