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on 8 February 2009
The Reader is adapted from a novel of the same name by Bernhard Schlink (a novel I have not read, and one I must add to my ever growing reading list), whether it is a faithful adaptation, I cannot say. Regardless, the film has powerful messages and raises important moral questions which are incredibly difficult to answer.

The basic plot is easy enough to lay out: it is 1950's Germany; a young boy of fifteen, Michael Berg (David Kross), is sick on the streets, when an older woman in her late thirties, Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet), finds him and helps him home. After recovering from his illness, Michael goes back to thank Hannah in her home, and an affair begins. It lasts for one summer, and Hanna abruptly leaves without a word. Six years later, Michael, now a law student, comes across his former lover in a war trial, where Hanna is one of six female defendants - all of whom are former guards of the concentration camps. A secret, that Hanna deems so shameful that she would rather be found guilty of mass murder than disclose it, secures the tragedy of this highly emotive and moving film.

The film's narrative is told through flashbacks (though the narrative eventually catches up to the present time) from the older Michael Berg (Ralph Fiennes) and although it was so many years ago, although it was only one summer in his youth, it becomes evident that he has never moved on and has affected his whole life.

The first warning I would give about this film is to not watch it with your parents or other relatives - the first hour of the film has very graphic sex scenes and includes full frontal male nudity. This part of the film is a bit slow going, and since I had not read a single thing about the film before I sat down (all I knew was that Winslet and Fiennes starred) I began to sigh and wonder if I had unwittingly walked into a softcore porn film. It becomes obvious later on why so much time is spent on the actual affair, so although it gets a bit tiresome, its effects come into play and makes the film a lot more satisfying in its full context.

It is the first time leap, six years after the affair, that the film really begins to pick up. The trial itself is the highlight of the film. It is superbly written and the performances are inspired. The seminars in which the students and their professor discuss the proceedings of the trial is particularly powerful.

There is not one weak performance in sight, and I could not honestly say who out-acted who out of the three leads. Winslet is always reliable, but her turn as Hanna renders her truly deserving of all the nominations (and wins) she has received. Kross depicts the innoncent love of a fifteen year old boy and the pain that ensues with deep authenticity. Fiennes does not get as much screen time, but he captures it everytime he appears, playing as full grown man but still with the sense of innocence and pained youth which he has never quite been able to get away from.

"What would you have done?" Hanna asks the silent stricken courtroom. The sense of human morality, alongside with contemporary and prior laws, authority driven behaviour, duty, obedience and different cultural beliefs are spun into one when the court asks Hanna why she did not unlock the doors to a burning church with hundreds of Jews inside. The certainty and the obviously matter of fact demeanor that Hannah inhabits on trial raises so many questions: who has the right to judge who? Should a court of a different time, of a different social context condemn actions of others made in the past? But in what circumstances should mass murder be left unpunished? Can anyone possibly understand a person like Hanna? Is it the case that somebody like Hanna who could love, who could feel, that a young boy fell in love with, could honestly have killed hundreds of Jews? Were all the guards not really sadists, criminals and cold-hearted, but normal, ordinary people? These are just some of the questions that this film asks, but cannot find answers to. I doubt the audience will be any closer of the answers.

It is these thought-provoking matters coupled with the human aspect of Michael Berg and how the holocaust affects the following generations that truly makes this film unique, inspiring and moving. This film is unmissable and whilst I imagine it will gain some critics by putting concentration camp guards in the position of sympathy, they may well miss the point that it is not so much about understanding Hanna, but following the journey of a boy who unwittingly fell in love with a former SS guard and trying to come to terms with it.
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on 16 January 2012
Kate Winslet's performance is remarkable in this film. If you are more accustomed to seeing her in such sugary nonsense as 'The Holiday', desparately trying to convince us she could fall for Jack Black, (she fails in that btw) here she shows that she's more than capable of taking on one of the most challenging roles imaginable for an actress. She succeeds completely, brilliantly convincing as a solitary 35 year-old tram conductress who has an affair with a young lad. The power of her performance grows as, ageing gradually for the remainder of the film - a huge challenge for a bubbly, beautiful woman like her, she continues her solitary meaningless existence as a 'victim' herself.

Bruno Ganz was also a standout for me as the young lad's legal professor at Law School. I also noticed Ganz' co-star from the spell-binding 'Downfall', Alexandra Maria Lara (Traudl Junge) pop up in one of the courtroom scenes as a young Jewish woman. These two and the rest of what was largely a German cast were excellent.

A thoroughly deserved Oscar then for the leading lady, and I for one look forward to many more to come for her
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on 31 August 2010
This film brought together two of my favourite subjects, Kate Winslet and World War II. This is a haunting film that is split into three separate periods of time. I won't go into the storyline, that is easy enough to find out about, but Kate Winslet's performance is truly worthy of the Oscar she received for it.

During the early part of the film, Winslet has a love affair with a teenage boy, the awkwardness in their relationship is excellently portrayed and you feel uncomfortable watching this young man fall head over heels for a distant older woman. The horrors of Winslet's past comes into the open and the depiction of a woman performing inhumane acts in the genuine belief that she was only following orders is unnerving. The final part of the film shows Winslet, in her old age, childishly excited as she is contacted once again by the now older teenage boy.

David Cross and Ralph Fiennes provide excellent support and this film leaves you with a small but very real sense of what things were like during the war. There are a million war films out there but few are this thought provoking.
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VINE VOICEon 8 September 2009
The Reader, adapted from the novel by Bernhard Schlink is one of the most powerful and thought provoking films that I can ever remember seeing. It poses questions both in it's story and in the discussions among the law students that have been taboo for the past seventy years. While never attempting to make an excuse for the attrocities committed in the concentration camps it does ask whether the right people were punished afterwards or whether it was more a case of finding anybody to shift the blame to.

Kate Winslett was rightly rewarded for her portrayal of Hanna, a former prison camp guard who through her pride takes the brunt of the blame for a massacre. Ralph Fiennes gives another sad and splendid performance as her former lover.
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on 1 July 2012
First things first: if you already have the DVD, is it worth replacing it with this Blu-ray? I think, yes: there's greater visual quality and a sense of 'realism'; I guess the sound quality also improves. I don't think (not having owned the DVD) that there are any additional extras in the Blu-ray.

Second: if I haven't seen this film, should I? Yes: it's a serious, melanchonic and challenging account of the critically acclaimed book. I won't spoil the plot; suffice it to say that you will gain a greater insight into the story each time you watch it; it stands many replays - I think you'll experience lots of "oh, so THAT'S why..." moments.

The packaging liner notes highlight "this tale of eroticism, secrecy.." etc. Well: as other reviewers have (rightly) noted, there are several intimate sex scenes in the first hour or so of the movie. Each encounter illustrates how the relationship between Hannah (Kate Winslet) and Michael (David Kross?) matures; so, while these sex scenes are 'intimate', they're not gratuiously 'sexy', as the blurb might suggest. When Michael sees Hannah years later, in a different context, those scenes help us understand his dilemma: understanding a defining adolescant (sexual and romantic) relationship with Hannah Schmidtz, against something utterly repugnant that he now faces as a law student - visiting, as part of his syllabus, a Nazi war trial. But there's more to it, than this...

Bottom line: This is a serious, thought-provoking film. Performances by the three main players (Kate Winslet, Ralph Feinnes, David Kross) are brave and moving. Bruno Ganz ('Hitler' in the Downfall movie) is also great; as is Alexandra Maria Lara ('Traudl Junge' in the Downfall movie). Very highly recommended.
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on 3 February 2011
Wow; what a brilliant film!

Admittedly I am a fan of Kate Winslet so I was looking forward to watching this movie with great anticipation. It didn't let me down (unlike 'Revolitionary Road') even if, at times, I felt disturbed and uneasy with its content. (Kate's performance is so good that sometimes you find yourself wanting to forgive Hanna for her past).

The story recounts a former Nazi prison guard's attrocities alongside an unlikely relationship with a man she was a lover to when he was still adolescent. A difficult storeyline is beautifully portrayed and pulls your emotions in many directions. The acting is superb, the narrative is powerful and the cinematography excellent.

Now - I have read some of the one star/negative reviews accorded to this film and I have to say that, in my opinion, all of them have missed the point. The is not a film trying to evoke empathy for a Nazi criminal but one that attempts to portray the frailties and failings of the human condition. I have to say it achieves this remarkably well and I was captivated by every minute of it; just a stunning film!
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on 2 August 2009
A really excellent drama.A real Oscar worthy performance by Kate Winslet, and by all the other actors.
David Kross,the teenager,was brilliant in what must have been a difficult role for him.Ralph Fiennes was excellent as usual.
I havent read the book but the film was a very good and intense,thought provoking drama.You dont get many good ones like this today.
There were a lot of sex scenes in it but it was necessary for the story.We must all be getting used to seeing Kate without clothes by now.Be careful who you watch it with. Highly recommended.
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on 20 May 2009
We've all been waiting for Kate to find a role which would show her great talent as an actress. This is it.
An improbable story of a 30ish, lonely and conformist repressed woman, with some very bad memories, who falls in love with a teenage boy she wants to help, seems like a difficult project. But the script, acting and direction are faultless.

There are many genuinely tender moments as the 'star-crossed' lovers discover their bond and declare their love on a cycling holiday in the Alps. Hannah (Kate) is seen growing in confidence as she realises that she is truly cared for by Michael, however incongruous their age-mismatched affair.

But the affair is necessarily doomed when she is sent to trial for war crimes committed in her former life as a concentration camp guard. The other women guards in the dock are superbly, if rather frighteningly, well-played.
Hannah's honesty, in describing her sense of duty to the Reich and its apparatus is her fatal flaw. She is sentenced to a long jail term, while her far more venal colleagues are dealt with more lightly.

During her long incarceration she is traced by her old lover, now a mature man. In a beautiful switch, he now assumes the duty of caring for her, but now in a platonic relationship of book-exchange, as she gains in literacy.

This film is utterly superb. It charts the complexity of human love, personal redemption through affection and understanding and it shows how good actors have a skill few ordinary mortals possess.

This is not 'Holocaust chic' at any level. It is a series of moral dilemmas, beautifully resolved and skillfully told. It is set in 1950's moving to the present, but its themes are timeless.

Why am I recommending it, you probably already have a copy?
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on 1 June 2009
A beautiful multi-layed intelligent thought-provoking film, which asks alot of questions but allows us to reach our own conclusions.

Forcing us to ask ourselves some uncomfortable questions to our own moral complicity, whether the SS guards were all monsters or just normal people under a tyranical and authorial society, in a different time, law and culture. Are we reallty the ones to judge? I found myself sympathising with Hanna and angry at Michael for not helping her; I think this is the point of the film, you find yourself looking inwards at yourself: ''What would you do?'' and the fact is that you can't ever really know if you would have done things differently, tho we all like to think so. The one thing the film doesn't ask is for forgiveness, it can't presume, doesn't want to, all it wants is our understanding.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 May 2010
Thought I'd wait for the background noise on this film to die down and for it to be placed in the discount bins before purchasing The Reader.

I approached it as a film that might be about books. About reading books. As it happened I found this to be the case. Though many famous and not-so-famous books are referred to and read from, it was the fervour I recall from starting to read books in my teens, which was well rendered in the film.

That fervour is still with me even if I now punctuate my life with a book rather than be as consumed by them as I was at one time. These days my concern is for those who can not read. And for the lowlifes who allow them to pass before them and be paid for doing so. Teachers.

If I refrain from giving The Reader five stars this is due to a rather pedestrian direction. The twists in the story do keep you interested and the soundtrack is as cool as the characters and their environment but there should be no room for lethargy for the audience. None.

The subject of guilt is the film's main concern. Where it lies, who's to blame and what should be done with its discovery. Fascinating to watch and reflect upon. "What would you have done?" someone asks the judge in court. Silence screams over seventy years. Very effective in attacking the average. Nobody chooses to be left out. You are left out by those around you. Guilt is a dirty business. Murdering millions of innocent human beings IS humanity's lowest point. How can the law cope with system failure? It's not the mothers and fathers but the teachers who are to blame. And the prisons often pick-up their failure.

Black and white answers are for kiddies.
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