Posted on Monday, December 29, 2008 at 05:00 PM
By: S. Tran
Starring: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross
Directed By: Stephen Daldry
Running Time: 123 minutes
Interesting Yet Unsatisfying
The tag line in the advertisements for The Reader invites the audience to "Unlock the Mystery". Unfortunately the mystery isn't much of a challenge to unlock which leaves the audience with nothing much else to do for most of the film except watch as the story slowly fizzles to unsatisfactory ending which is kind of a shame given the acting talent they managed to attract to the project.
The story involves an affair between Michael (Kross), a high school student who begins an affair with an older woman named Hanna (Winslet) in post WWII Germany. In addition to their physical relationship the two also connect through the writings of famous authors as Hanna asks Michael to read to her as a form of entertainment. Hanna abruptly leaves one day and Michael is left wondering about her until their paths cross again years later when Hanna finds herself on trial.
I admit to feeling a little lost after the movie ended. It just wasn't very clear what the audience was supposed to take away from the story. The ending of the film did not justify the long time it spent setting it up. In addition, the motivations for some of the characters' actions didn't make much sense, cheapening the story over all. Perhaps the problem was summed up in the words of a survivor of the concentration camps who told the older version of Michael (Fiennes) that nothing came out of those camps, nothing at all.
While the film itself felt like it was lacking a purpose it wasn't the fault of the actors. Kross has the kind of looks that will certainly gain him attention in Hollywood in the future and has the acting ability to make the most of those opportunities. He does an excellent job as the young Michael. As good as he was though he is overshadowed by Winslet who gives her best performance so far as Hanna, the dark and tortured woman who is forced to face her past. An Oscar nomination would not be surprising.
Ralph Fiennes was perhaps the weakest of the three characters. I found his mopey acting annoying after a while. I don't know if its fair to blame this on Fiennes but the character just seemed flat compared to Hanna and the younger Michael.
Another small issue I had with the film was the nudity which seemed gratuitous for such a serious film. For some reason art films like this seem to believe they have some license to do this because its "art". This is of course a load of garbage. The film didn't need those scenes and certainly would not have lost anything by fading quietly away to black instead of giving us extended looks at Kate's naked body.
3 out of 5 stars.