The lives of two lovelorn spouses from separate marriages, a registered sex offender, and a disgraced ex-police officer intersect as they struggle to resist their vulnerabilities and temptations in suburban Connecticut.
In New York City's Harlem circa 1987, an overweight, abused, illiterate teen who is pregnant with her second child is invited to enroll in an alternative school in hopes that her life can head in a new direction.
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
The Reader is off to a brilliant start with convincing characters, superb acting and looming tragedy, but seems to lose its sure footing as it heads toward a conclusion that feels partly carelessly planned and mainly lacking direction. It decreases the most potent revelations and resides on a powerful love that was successfully sustained only during the beginning. Once again the order of events are jumbled on the timeline and an unexpectedly long ending detracts from the impact of the most poignant moments, not least of which is an undying love story that overshadows the historical importance of the war crime trials that set up a heartbreaking reunion.
In 1958 West Germany 15-year-old Michael Berg (David Kross) is escorted home by a mysterious woman after becoming ill. Diagnosed with scarlet fever and bedridden for three months, he eventually seeks out Hanna (Kate Winslet) to thank her for her aid. Soon the two begin an unlikely (and very graphic) affair that lasts the duration of the summer Hanna is distant and uncompassionate, but Michael finds himself hopelessly in love (he insists on knowing her name by the third day they are together). Before each sexual tryst Michael reads to Hanna starting with his school assignments; a German play, Homer's Odyssey, Huckleberry Finn, The Lady with the Little Dog and eventually he even reads comic strips.
One day Hanna vanishes, and Michael is left to return to school, study law, and carry on relationships with people his own age. In 1966, while attending a trial for German guard crimes against Jewish prisoners, he spies Hanna as one of the defendants. Years later, torn between remembering the great flame they shared and condemning her for her crimes, Michael is haunted by the trial and determined to sort out his feelings of guilt and love.
It's certainly a unique angle to show a sympathetic lead character toward Holocaust involvement. As author Bernhard Schlink wrote about his novel, on which the film is based, "The Reader is not a story about redemption or forgiveness. It is about how my generation of Germans came to terms with what the generation before us had done." He challenges the viewer with transcending guilt, the ability to choose love and the complexity of monstrous actions undertaken by ordinary people. The film is splendidly emotional and comes very close to being phenomenal. The drawn out conclusion is a meditation on the power of love and its ability to overcome exceptionally trying junctures and even to overcome time itself. Morally devastating but not emotionally involving enough to attain instant masterpiece status, The Reader still boasts outstanding performances, a beautiful score and a moving tale of complex affection.
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