Directed by:Stephen Daldry
Premise: In post-World War II Germany, a young man (David Kross) has a love affair with an older woman (Kate Winslet). Years later, he finds her on trial for war crimes.
What Works: Kate Winslet is terrific as Brigitte and proves once again that she is one of the best and bravest actresses of her generation. The first half of The Reader has some of the most erotic scenes on film in recent memory, surpassing Last Tango in Paris and even The Dreamers (How this NC-17 material got past the MPAA is a mystery but it is just as well.). The second half of The Reader is a courtroom drama and a Holocaust film, and this is where the film manages to do some interesting things dramatically and thematically. After spending the first half establishing Brigitte as a likeable if mysterious woman, the second half reveals the terrible things she has done in the past. The moral complexity of The Reader is similar to The Woodsman or Hard Candy in that it confronts Michael (Koss) and the audience with the difficult task of reconciling the evil acts of this apparently good person.
What Doesn’t: The trouble with The Reader is its lack of conflict. The first half of the film is rather repetitious with events getting very cyclical as the young Michael (Kross) goes on repeated sexual adventures with Brigitte. As hot as it is, not much is gained from this except to establish the characters’ feelings for each other, but this goes on for a long time and it is a little overdone. The second half of the picture, although it is the better half, is largely disconnected from the first half and feels like a separate film. The story of the love affair is set in a frame narrative with the older Michael (Ralph Fiennes) raising his daughter and reminiscing about the past. The frame is largely unnecessary because very little is gained from it.
Bottom Line: The Reader is a good film both as a love story and a moral tale. Despite its flaws, the performance by Kate Winslet is so good that the film is definitely worth a viewing.
Episode: #225 (February 1, 2009)