April 3rd, 2009


Movie Review: The Reader

Kate Winslet was good, but she didn't blow me away by any means. The story itself was interesting, but a little plodding in its pace. On a whole, 'The Reader' was a little above average, though wholly predictable.

And NOT because I caught most of the gist dating back to all the Academy Awards preamble. Yes, I knew going in it was a romance between a teenage boy and an older former Nazi woman. Yes, I had an inclination that this would probably end tragically, as most romances between teenage boys and Nazi women tend to do.

So, I'm just going to get into some of the key plot points here. Tread on at your own risk.

From the first instant Hanna tells Michael she'd rather him read to her, I knew right away she was illiterate. And I'm not one of those people who try to guess their ways through a movie; in fact, I hate traits in those people, because inevitably their smug satisfaction when they get one right is all the reason I need for punching repeatedly in the face. But, it was so obvious, I mean, a fucking illiterate could've picked up on that no problem! The woman's job was Ticket-Puncher for a streetcar, it's not like you need all that many smarts.

Of course, I had no idea that that little tidbit would be so prominent in the outcome of this movie. In short, Hanna takes the fall for the rest of the guards at this Concentration Camp who are on trial for the murder of 300 Jews in a building fire, because they said she was in charge and wrote the Official Report on the incident. How could she write the report if she doesn't know how to read? Well, she doesn't tell the judge that, and away she goes to Life Imprisonment while the rest of the guards get four years.

The suicide at the end was another matter entirely. Having your character commit suicide as the climax of your work is pretty much the Crab People of dramatic endings. You can't think of a decent way out of the story, have a main character hang herself, bada bing bada boom, the audience is crying in their popcorn. So, going into any somber, dramatic work, I'm always on the alert for a suicide. The Reader disappointed by not disappointing me.

It's such a hacky way to end something! Here I am to believe that this stoic, by the book woman who's lived this regimented life, spoke honestly at her trial (until she was too embarassed to admit that she couldn't read), and then when she's finally up for parole, she goes and hangs herself. And then they have the audacity to explain it away by saying, "She was doing really well up until a few years ago when she started letting herself go." I'm sorry, but that's bushleague and I just won't stand for it!

I don't know if they want us to feel compassion for this woman or not. We see her and this boy have this loving relationship for a little less than half the movie, she leaves without a word, then we find her on trial for these crimes - unseen by us viewers, but come on, it's the Holocaust, we all know what horrific atrocities went down - we see her small, fragile, taking the fall, and dwindling away in prison for 40 some-odd years. And while in prison, she teaches herself to read and write thanks to Michael sending her books on tape. It's all built up for us to root her to a quiet, simple conclusion, and then she kills herself and now what? Are we supposed to weep? Are we supposed to say Good Riddence?

I don't think we're really supposed to feel anything for her. His is the story we reel from, but as an excercise in understanding, the creators do a tremendous job painting a picture of a complex woman. For the most part, she's domineering, in charge, preying upon the weak for her own gain (until they discover her dark non-reading secret); but she's also very weak and dependent.

So yeah. Aside from the predictability, it's definitely a worthwhile picture. I think the best performance wasn't by Winslet though, but by the actor David Kross who plays Teenage Michael. His power and emotion resonate much more than Winslet's cold, calculating gaze.