The Reader (2008) – Stephen Daldry

The final recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book following my screening of Schindler’s List, is this moving, and thoughtful film based on the novel by Bernhard Schlink.

Kate Winslet stars as Hanna Schmitz, a role for which she won an Oscar for Best Lead Performance. Set in Post World War II Germany, the movie slips through the decades as we flashback on the life of Michael Berg (Ralph Fiennes).

We see him in his younger days as a teen, portrayed by David Kross, when he meets Hanna, an older woman, and begins an affair with her. Their moments are spent love-making and with Michael reading to her as the film explores themes of shame, pride, redemption and justice.

As the years progress, and Hanna has mysteriously ended the affair, Micheal comes across her in the most unlikely of places as he studies the law, in a court room, on trial for allegedly being a SS officer.

She is keeping a secret that could change the outcome of her trial, but her pride, and her shame prevents her from revealing it, and a thoughtful, beautiful film is the result.

Director Daldry creates an emotional involving film that deals with the subject matter gently and smartly. It raises questions, even as it connects us with the characters.

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Winslet turns in an incredible performance, making Hanna’s arc a believable, and painfully real experience. She brings Hanna to life, and lets the camera, and the audience judge the character on her own merits.

The effect the relationship has on young Michael resonates throughout his life down through the decades, even as the elder Michael tries to connect with his daughter.

The film brings up a number of questions, and doesn’t provide answers for a few, hoping instead that dialogues would be created, that thoughtful discussions could be had as people and their lives are examined by the viewers and by the law of the courtroom portrayed on the screen.

Winselt is remarkable and something to behold, and Daldry uses her skills and abilities perfectly as the film brings Hanna and Michael to life, and place them in the greater context of justice, responsibility and redemption.

The final act of the film is heartbreaking, and helps to redefine Michael before the credits roll, and perhaps also helps redefine the viewer. They should be able to walk away from the film, examining it from all sides, understanding the facts and emotions involved, and come to their own conclusions on whether justice is served, and if redemption can be had.

To say nothing of not being able to control who you fall in love with.

A beautiful creation, that should be seen just for Winslet’s performance alone if for nothing else.

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