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THE READER opens in post-war Germany when teenager Michael Berg becomes ill and is helped home by Hanna, a stranger twice his age. Michael recovers from scarlet fever and seeks out Hanna to thank her. The two are quickly drawn into a passionate but secretive affair. Michael discovers that Hanna loves being read to and their physical relationship deepens. Hanna is enthralled as Michael reads to her from "The Odyssey," "Huck Finn" and "The Lady with the Little Dog." Despite their intense bond, Hanna mysteriously disappears one day and Michael is left confused and heartbroken. Eight years later, while Michael is a law student observing the Nazi war crime trials, he is stunned to find Hanna back in his life - this time as a defendant in the courtroom. As Hanna's past is revealed, Michael uncovers a deep secret that will impact both of their lives. THE READER is a story about truth and reconciliation, about how one generation comes to terms with the crimes of another. Written by
The Weinstein Company
Stephen Daldry knows how to tell a story, knows how important it is to make each of those characters relevant and indispensable, more importantly, emotions are finely portrayed, but it is the cerebral quality of his work that both impresses and irritates the audience. Somehow, he let go of his control and made "Billy Elliot" exuberant and glorious, with each note and emotion spilling out of the screen. His restraint might have lessened the impact of the dark nature of the tragedy in "The Hours"; somehow the balance continues in "The Reader", a powerful testament to the complexity of humans and their interactions. In "The Reader" learning occurs, consequences, origins, and motivations are carefully explored and analyzed, leaving out some of the mystery for us to decide. Choice is key here, and some choices are carry a bigger weight than others.
The marvelous Kate Winslet, who should be honoured for the quality of her work, with as much recognition as it is humanly possible portrays the central character of the story, a woman whose life might have been shaped by unfortunate events, mostly undisclosed to us, and some of her own genetic makeup. We, as the lawyers and the students in the film, get to evaluate the evidence and choose to make a statement to justify hers and our own ethical standpoints. It is the intricate and deft interpretation of Hannah that anchors the story. Although, the story follows Michael and their relationship from his teenage years to the devastating conclusion, the film succeeds because Winslet is able to show every bit of the confusion, rationale, and emotion that her character possesses. She seems cold and detached, but as we look, we discover that there is more to her than we can see from the moments we see her on the screen. Hannah carries secrets inside her soul, somehow keeping herself alive, surviving, living an austere existence that hypnotizes, seduces, and repulses those she encounters.
Michael is seduced by this mysterious woman, and his own future is shaped by those moments they spend together. What he doesn't realize is how big of an effect their time together will have on his life. Their early scenes are powerful and presented with a strong sense of realism and brevity. They're probable the best of the film and might have to be reviewed to understand how key they are to the further growth of Michael's life and reactions to others. Winslet does not say much, but her manipulations provoke her desired effects.
As their paths diverge and meet, their relationship changes as one observes the dramatic turn of events that brings them together again, and how Michael's actions have dire consequences for both of them. It is during this period that we think we begin to see how relative everything: what is moral and immoral, logic and emotional, simple and complex. Highs and lows are hit again, as we become more involved in one of the most powerful and dramatic moments of their lives.
In the final act of the film is when Winslet and Feines do some of their most outstanding work ever; she even surpassing her masterful turns in "Revolutionary Road", and "Eternal Sunshine". Every gesture, every look, every enunciation add details and shed light to who they were, are and might become. It is subtle work, haunting, and bewitching, the work very few people are able to do.
"The Reader" reaches its amazing conclusion with a couple of scenes that might break whatever little strength we might still have left. "The Reader" isn't an important work, but it is a work that should be recognized by the quality of its work, a finely tuned and produced piece of cinema by people who recognize how magical, powerful, and intelligent films can be.
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