The Reader

Beamed at the Academy of Motion Pictures, Category of High Moral Tone, comes Stephen Daldry’s fatally respectful take on the acclaimed 1995 novel by Bernhard Schlink about German culpability for the Holocaust. Sidestepping the usual Auschwitz camp footage and unfolding mostly in a dingy bedroom and a provincial courthouse, The Reader honors Schlink’s restraint and his struggle to avoid cliché. But like many narrative filmmakers who walk on their tippy-toes when dealing with the Holocaust, neither Daldry nor his screenwriter, David Hare, seem eager to make the material their own. Instead, the movie plods grimly through the memories of emotionally constipated law professor Michael Berg (a dour Ralph Fiennes) of his post-War affair with a tram conductress (Kate Winslet) who turns out to have been a concentration camp guard. Young Michael is played by German actor David Kross, looking chuffed as the Cheshire Cat to begin his career in bed with a buck-naked Winslet, whose effortless blend of wounded fragility and tempered steel provides The Reader whatever momentum it can rustle up. Hanna has a secret that, once revealed, will either evoke your pity or cause you to shrug and say, “So what?” Schlink leaves that up to us; Daldry and screenwriter David Hare sew it all up with a moment of fatally damp redemption.
Starts: Dec. 12. Daily, 2008

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