Thursday, March 05, 2009

THE READER: Winslet's Winner

THE READER (drama)
Cast: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross, Bruno Ganz and Lena Olin

Director: Stephen Daldry

Time: 120 mins

Rating: * * * (out of 4)

Kate Winslet and David Kross (as The Reader)

POINTS TO NOTE: 1. The Reader is one of a slew of movies dealing with World War Two and the Holocaust that was released last year. These include award-worthy films like and Valkyrie, Defiance and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

2. Released specially to coincide with the Oscar Race, The Reader offers up Kate Winslet at one of her most powerful performances, including many scenes in the nude (of which she has no qualms about).

3. Winslet won the Best Actress Oscar for her role as Hanna Schmitz - her first win after being nominated five times over the years.

4. Most of the nude scenes and 'objectionable dialogue' have been censored at Malaysian cinemas. So what remains may be rather frustrating to watch.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Adapted from Bernhard Schlink's novel, this movie is about the relationship between Hanna and Michael Berg, a student who later becomes a lawyer. They first meet in West Berlin in 1958. Hanna, in her 30s, helps a sick 15-year-old Michael (David Kross) to find his way home. When he visits her to thank her for her kindness, they start an affair.

From then on, Michael would visit Hanna after school, and he would read aloud to her from his books before or after they have sex. Hanna seems to find escapism in Michael's stories. One day, however, Hanna moves out...

The next time Michael sees Hanna is in the 60s. He is a law student under Professor Rohl (Bruno Ganz) and she is on trial for crimes committed at a concentration camp during World War Two. It is during the trial that Michael learns of Hanna's secret, something she has been trying not only to hide, but also to run away from.

HITS AND MISSES: Starting the drama from 1995, director Stephen Daldry tells the story in criss-crossing flashbacks that can be rather confusing. Here, a scowling Ralph Fiennes plays the adult Michael, a trial lawyer whose life seems as depressing as his demeanour. He is divorced, he has one-night stands and is trying to get closer to his daughter (Hannah Herzsprung). Apparently, thoughts of Hanna are still on his mind.

Personally, I don't think this is the best of Winslet's portrayals but it comes close. Her Hanna Schmitz is both strong and vulnerable at the same time and awfully full of contradictions. The one scene that strikes me most is when she retorts to the authorities at the trial. It is clear that the innocent-looking Hanna is the perpetrator but, she may also be a victim - of the demands of her job, and of the system under a ruthless dictator.

Kross is a charmer, especially when he smiles and Lena Olin has a memorable cameo at the end, playing a Holocaust survivor whom Michael visits on an errand in New York.

THE LOWDOWN: For fans of Kate Winslet, it looks like a must-see, especially on DVD!


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