Tuesday, January 13, 2009

REVIEW: Just A Few Thoughts On The Reader...



Nazis are trendy. Take a look at the last month or so of film releases. First, there was the Tom Cruise thriller, Valkyrie. As flawed as that film may be, it was still a rather well made and thrilling film, with a few stellar shots. Before that, in much smaller release, was the Boy In The Striped Pajamas, a film that I really know little about, and never got a chance to see, as it was not released wide around here. Then, this upcoming week, we get the Ed Zwick, James Bond fi...uh, Daniel Craig film, Defiance, which, aside from some technical feats, has been getting little buzz. However, the cream of the crop was a small film released about 3 weeks ago, the Golden Globe Award Winning film, The Reader. However, did it live up to the hype?

The Reader is a film about Michael Burk, who, nearly a decade after his affair with an older woman came to a mysterious end, re-encounters his former lover as she defends herself in a war-crime trial. It tells the story of Michael and Hannah Schmitz, a women who is illiterate, and loves to be read to. Their affair ends when Hannah accepts a job to become a guard for the S.S. At the trial discussed above, Michael discovers her past transgressions, and the film goes on from their. It's about love, loss, and reconciliation, and is also about how slow films can end.

This film is the newest directorial outing by Stephen Daldry, best known for helming Billy Elliot and the horribly underrated The Hours. Daldry is the true star of this film. In the first half, the film is really just about this young man, and his first true fling. It has all of the lust, naivety, and true awkwardness that goes into a "summer fling". These little things are shot so brilliantly, that it really sticks with you.

Kate Winslet, who just took home a duo of Golden Globes for Revolutionary Road and this film, is indeed quite good here. She takes a truly degrading and surface level character, and makes it human. However, the true acting star of this film is David Kross, as the teenage Michael Burk. There is just something about his sort of sexual awakening and what comes of it, that is so brilliantly portrayed by this young actor. Ralph Fiennes is his old, brilliant, Voldemort self (not that he's killing wizards, he's just really great here), and so is the majority of the supporting cast. There is one performance in particular, played by Rainer Sellien I believe, that really saved the film in it's slowest of moments. He plays a teacher who takes a group of law students to the trail, and just his voice alone made me focus on what was happening. He was truly great.

For about the first half of this film, I was really really with it. It's a completely compelling story, featuring a pair of great performances in the true leads, and has one of the most elegant and quaint scores I've heard all year. Nothing to heavy handed, but just enough to keep the emotion, not set by the screen, moving in the right direction. Also, it's not bad to have Mrs. Sam Mendes half naked on the screen for about the first 40 minutes. However, the second half really fell apart.

Once we leave the romance, the film becomes much more of a message film. It sets up these trials of 8 women who left, I believe, 300 Jews in a burning barn to die. Then we get the one student who brings up the point that everyone knew was coming.

"Why are we putting these 8 women on trial, when there are worse things being done by worse people inside of these camps."

And the subsequent hour or so really just fell apart. The message IS a compelling one, and what is said during these scenes inside of the classroom where Michael has his seminar, are really interesting and ones that people should think and talk about, but it just didn't feel like a good fit with the first half of the film. It turned into a message film, when I wanted more of that neo-Nazi Y Tu Mama style of film. It would have stuck with me a little more.

That all said, this is a pretty solid film, just not one that I would really write home about, especially in a year stacked right near the top. Go see Ben Button again. Rent The Reader.

THE READER - 7.5/10

While stunning to look at and wonderfully acted, The Reader really has an identity crisis near the end of the first act. Save this one for a rainy day.

Come back later for more movie news and reviews!

Go see something good!

***Sorry for the short review, I've been a little bit busy over the past couple of days, but I did want to get my overall feelings on the film out. I would love to hear what you guys have to say about the Reader, if you have seen it, so leave any and all questions or comments below!

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