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The Reader
The Reader
Actors: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Habich, David Kross, Susanne Lothar
Director: Stephen Daldry
Genres: Drama, Mystery & Suspense
R     2009     2hr 3min

The Reader, set in post-WWII Germany, follows teenager Michael Berg as he engages in a passionate but secretive affair with an older woman named Hanna. Eight years after Hanna s disappearance, Michael is stunned to discove...  more »

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Movie Details

Actors: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Habich, David Kross, Susanne Lothar
Director: Stephen Daldry
Creators: Roger Deakins, Chris Menges, Nico Muhly, Claire Simpson
Genres: Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Love & Romance, Mystery & Suspense
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen - Dubbed,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 04/14/2009
Original Release Date: 01/01/2008
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2008
Release Year: 2009
Run Time: 2hr 3min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 2
Members Wishing: 0
MPAA Rating: R (Restricted)
Languages: English, French
Subtitles: English, Spanish

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Member Movie Reviews

Rick B. from GLENVIEW, IL
Reviewed on 7/3/2013...
Sexy, sophisticated and mesmerizing. I think the novel handled the big 'reveal' better than the movie, but I don't have the benefit of seeing the movie first not knowing what's coming.

Anyway, a great plot and a great film.
4 of 5 member(s) found this review helpful.
Jerry S. from OCEANSIDE, CA
Reviewed on 7/3/2012...
2 of 4 member(s) found this review helpful.
Lorilea G. (lorilea) from FREDERICKSBRG, VA
Reviewed on 5/5/2012...
This movie was okay. I was expecting it to be better, but it was a decent movie. Kate Winslet is an amazing actress. Their was too much nudity/sex scenes for my liking. I would recommend renting before buying this movie. (Or, since it is wishlisted, buy and if you dont like it, send it off, as I did)
3 of 3 member(s) found this review helpful.
Kathi E. (hdwoman) from WESTPORT, PA
Reviewed on 5/3/2011...
I really enjoyed this film. Kate Winslet is exceptional as Hanna Schmitz. It is a story
about secrets, guilt & truth. Very well done.
2 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.

Movie Reviews

A profoundly moving and intellectual masterpiece...
Andrew Ellington | I'm kind of everywhere | 03/16/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I am writing this review on Oscar Nomination morning (although due to the fact that I refuse to post a review until the DVD has dropped you will be reading this much later) mostly due to my elation that it has been nominated for not only the marvelous performance by Kate Winslet (in the right category mind you) but also for Best Picture, Best Director and Adapted Screenplay. I've been chomping at the bit to write this review ever since I walked out of the theater a few weeks back, and since then I've seen the film a record three times and I would watch it again right now if I could. I've pondered this film, discussed this film, relived this film and can honestly label it the best film of the year and quite possibly one of the best films I've seen in a long time.

Sure, you can be quick to pinpoint it's supposed faults, and you can try and label it something that it is not, but if you allow your eyes to open and your mind to absorb you may be able to see this for what it really is; a masterpiece.

When sitting down to write this review I asked my friend how I was going to be able to do so without being redundant or irritating. I mean, how many different ways can you say masterpiece before someone says "I get the point, now move on"? I'm going to try and get all that out of the way right now so that my review will be palatable.

`The Reader' is a masterpiece.

Okay, I'm done now.

Having read Bernhard Schlink's beautiful novel I was really anticipating this film. I feel that Kate Winslet is the finest working actress today and this just seemed like such an ideal role for her (Oscar, if you pass her over this year I vow to never watch another telecast). I of course try and shrug off all `high expectations', and thankfully with `The Reader' there was no hype. It hasn't been hailed as the best of anything, and while it has landed on a few top ten lists it rarely breaks close to the top. The reviews have been mixed, some raving it as a masterpiece, some labeling it a faux; an imitation of a more insightful film. The only awards the film has garnered up until the point have been for Winslet so walking into the film, I was not feeding into hype.

I was simply hoping to see a good movie.

The film tells the story of Michael Berg, a young fifteen year old boy living in Post-WWII Germany. One day while making his way home he falls ill and is helped back by an older woman named Hanna. After waiting out his illness he attempts to thank Hanna but he winds up falling into a steamy affair. The two bond over books, using reading as a form of foreplay, and the two become almost inseparable. Then for no apparent reason Hanna leaves town without a word and Michael is left wondering why his only love has left him. Years later while Michael is attending law school he gets the opportunity to sit in on a trial being held over war crimes and is stunned, and ultimately heartbroken, to see Hanna is one of the accused.

First and foremost it should be addressed that this is not your typical Holocaust film, for quite frankly the Holocaust is the least impressionable part of this film. The film, like the novel, deals strongly with the feelings of guilt and redemption. There is a moral play that runs throughout each scene that begs the audience to cast judgment, but not in an absolute way but in a more complex and understanding way. `The Reader' has no easy answers, but it throws at the audience a bit of a conundrum. It reminds me very much of `Dead Man Walking', a film that appears to have such an easy answer yet causes you to rip apart your own ideals.

I am keeping SPOILERS to a minimum here, but be forewarned that there may be a few.

When we meet Michael and Hanna they seem like an odd match. He is obviously better off financially than she is. He is attending school and is doing rather well. Hanna is working a dead end job and living in a small apartment. Her education is limited but her yearning for more is apparent. There is an attraction physically, which cannot be denied. While Hanna is rough due to the nature of her life she is a diamond in the rough, a beautiful woman trapped within the shell of her former life. Michael is young and coming into his own; a handsome boy with a head on his shoulders.

There's innocence within him that Hanna desires.

Their relationship is very fast and very graphic, but there is a sincerity there that one needs to truly look for. Some have complained that the relationship was pure surface; nothing but lust. They are missing something crucial. `The Reader' is a film filled with quiet moments that speak volumes about the characters. There is a deeper connection between these two souls, one that maybe they can't even recognize. There is a moment where Hanna finds herself inside a small church listening to a young choir and the tears are streaming down her face, and as Michael watches her from the doorway we can see it; even if he or even she doesn't truly understand it.

It is there.

As the film progresses and the two are separated we begin to truly see the deeper connection that they are feeling for the first time. As the trial proceeds Michael is caught between his own feelings of right and wrong; between what is ethical and what is not. He is disturbed by the revelations concerning his former love; distraught over what this means for him and whether or not it had anything to do with his personal attachment to this woman.

Can he bring himself to hate her? Can he bring himself to forgive her? Does she deserve that hatred or that forgiveness?

There is a moment when Michael is attempting to visit Hanna in prison when everything makes sense; his eyes swelling with an emotion he has yet to fully realize. He struggles to convince himself that he hates this woman, because hating her would make it easier to forget her.

`The Reader' is a masterfully crafted tale of love and loss; of what we tell ourselves in order to better understand something we haven't the capacity to grasp. There is the shame in Hanna's eyes as she hides her secret (one that you no doubt had guessed long before it was revealed, but the revealing of the secret is not really the point of the story), willing to sacrifice her very life so as not to be downgraded or looked down on. There is the guilt in Michael's eyes as he blames himself for Hanna's fate, unable to step outside his skin long enough to decide the correct course to case. This is a story about mistakes and missteps and regrets and the ultimate loss that comes from not fully understanding how to feel.

Technically, this is a flawless film. I remember reviewing `...Jesse James...' last year (this site still won't let me type in that full name) and going on and on about how technically perfect it was, from the cinematography to the score to the lighting to the mood to just about everything. `The Reader' is the exact opposite in scope yet just as profound. It is a much subtler film, and so the score, the lighting, the cinematography and the set designs are smaller, yet just as pristine. Everything is so crisp and delicate; adding layers to the mood perfectly presented by director Stephen Daldry. I was a little hesitant about Daldry's ability to transfer Schlink's novel to the big screen. I loved `Billy Elliott' and continue to love it more and more every time I watch it, but Daldry's latest effort was that 2002 debacle `The Hours' and so I was truly afraid that he was going to run the same gamut and deliver a similar piece.

`The Reader' is not only much more profound and poignant, but it is also executed much better than `The Hours' (to be fair, I need to watch this movie again, but I was not impressed the first or second go around).

When it all boils down to it though, this movie is all about two things; Kate Winslet and David Kross. Both actors deliver career highs (and to say that about Winslet is saying a lot since she is always top notch). Their performances are truly organic. That has become my new favorite word this year, for I feel as though it truly taps into the depth of these performances. There is a naturalness that fortifies itself within these performances, deepening with each flicker in the eyes or twitch under the skin. Try your hardest to watch Winslet's face (I know it's hard, especially since she is without clothing for practically the whole first hour of the film). There is a scene where she is lying in the bathtub and Kross comes in to hash out their argument. As he speaks you can see for the first time her hard exterior melting away and revealing this woman that she doesn't even know exists. It is so subtle yet so profound.

Winslet is utter perfection.

Kross is just as superb, sinking into his character and delving deep into his emotional responses to his current situation. The scene in the courtroom (all of the courtroom scenes are beyond breathtaking) when he notices Hanna for the first time is utterly immobilized. Watch as Kross exhibits such a natural gut reaction; as controlled as he can be yet giving way to lapses of uncontrollability.

The supporting cast is also superb, from Fiennes' dynamic understanding of Michael's emotional regression to Bruno Ganz's grasp of the real situation at hand. The one standout here is truly Olin, who proves to be one of the most important facets of the film. Her final scene with Fiennes is what makes the movie work, dispelling any easy sympathies for Hanna's atrocities with her cold standing. For anyone who has complained (and there have been many) that this film tries to condone the actions taken by Hanna I urge you to rewatch and study this scene, for in a few short words Hanna's actions are condemned wholeheartedly.

Remember, it is not her actions that we are sympathizing with, it is her inner person; cold and rigged yet incomplete, pleading for something or someone to make her feel whole.

Thanks in large part to David Hare's marvelous adaptation, `The Reader' lives up to its source material and delivers a truly outstanding and utterly astounding look at this tragic yet beautiful love story. If you walk away from `The Reader' unmoved then maybe you are just plain unmovable.

I'll close by saying that the Oscar's have passed, Kate won the gold (YES!!!) and I still agree wholeheartedly with every word in this review."
Chris D. Bates | Redondo Beach, CA | 06/29/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This wasn't really on my radar, until I started reading good reviews of it, and that, plus the fact of Kate Winslet, one of the few women I would unquestionably go straight for, conspired to send me off to the multiplex, where everyone else was billing and cooing over Marley & Me.

We have a brief snippet with Ralph Fiennes as this fellow Michael as an adult, then flash back to 1958 Germany, where he suddenly becomes sick in a street. Gruff woman Hanna, Winslet completely convincing as a German woman, comes and helps him and takes him home. Turns out he has scarlet fever, and is laid up in bed for three months. When he's better, he returns to her apartment to thank her. He visits again, and eventually the 16-year-old boy and the woman in her thirties are in a sexual relationship.

She provides his sexual education, and soon she asks him to bring things and read them to her. They spend many nice hours with him reading to her before or after sex. Michael grows to love her and is thrilled to have such an exciting secret, but soon he finds that it interferes with him having normal friendships and girlfriends with people his own age, since he is always running off after school to be with Hanna.

Eventually the affair abruptly ends. Years pass, and Michael goes to law school. The class goes into the city to watch a war crimes trial as a lesson, and Michael is surprised to see Hanna there--on trial. She joined the SS after their affair, as a nurse, and was in particular partially responsible for the burning deaths of a number of prisoners. Michael is very upset at the entire thing, but can't really confide to his fellow students, and by this time has started to notice that he has trouble forming deep relationships anyway.

Okay, serious spoilers, I'm not kidding! This section is better for people who have seen the movie. Michael tells his teacher that he has information that could affect the outcome of the trial... but he eventually declines to give it. Hanna is asked to provide a handwriting sample to prove that she wrote a statement about the atrocity. Rather than submit, she admits to the crime, and thus receives a far worse sentence than the others. The reason for both Michael and Hanna's actions? Hanna can neither read nor write. Therefore Michael could have had her exonerated, or at least significantly reduced her sentence, but he chose not to. She, too, could have exonerated herself, but she chose not to admit that she is unable to read. The film continues and throws out a few more moral complications, but I think this is the crux. < < < SPOILERS END

It strikes me as being about guilt and complicity. Michael has his chance to help Hanna, but now he has seen that his affair perhaps wasn't the best thing for him in the long run, and left him with several emotional issues. So he takes his revenge--by refusing to help her, and helping her in only very small, grudging ways later--and ways that could be considered as making her a sort of prisoner to him or someone deeply in his debt and control. Hanna seems for long periods to have no moral sense--and to harshly dismiss anyone who makes claims to one--but there's an element of her self-punishment that goes beyond superficial shame to a feeling of deeper guilt, almost as though, through whatever formed her, she believes herself to be evil and deserving of punishment.

So it all turns into a very literary moral lesson on guilt and levels of complicity. One of those things that chooses a subject and examines it from all sides, providing several different examples and aspects toward creating a detailed whole picture. In this way it's a very literary film, as it's about different aspects and shades of a concept, rather than an accumulation of events that eventually impart a lesson or provide an insight.

All the performances are very good. As I said, Winslet is completely convincing as a gruff German woman, and the role requires her to age to about seventy. She also makes a convincing old woman, although my only complaint is that, as an elderly woman, she still moves just as fast as her younger self. David Kross as young Michael conveys the innocent excitement and sense of specialness of being in this unconventional affair, and of course Ralph Fiennes is perfect as always. The direction [by Billy Eliot and The Hours director Stephen Daldry] is effective if undistinguished, using short little shots at times to express a character's troubled mind, without having to create another scene just to show it.

Overall, an engaging film with great performances that offers a lot to think about more than anything. An examination of the various aspects and shades of guilt and complicity as it relates to a certain interrelated circles of moral quandary. A thoughtful little movie you won't regret seeing."
Exquisitely done, deep and emotionally draining
Dennis Littrell | SoCal | 04/17/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)


There is a certain segment of the German mentality that is Hanna Schmidt. English Kate Winslet captures the intent of novelist Bernhard Schlink in her interpretation of the character. Hanna was an ordinary but proud woman of discipline who always did her duty, a woman without the ability to separate herself from what she knew was right and what was wrong, but a woman who was able to hide from herself what she did that was wrong.

She seduces fifteen-year-old Michael Berg. She finds him doubly useful as a reader of great literature. She knows it will not work. Of course how could it? She indulges herself but, being strong and proud, is able to divorce herself from him emotionally when the time comes, as it must. When he reads D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover to her, she is genuinely offended at the open sexuality, but we viewers are taken back since what she is doing with 15-year-old Michael Berg is on the screen and naked before our eyes.

In a sense this is the somewhat familiar story of the young man of station and potential had briefly in his youth by the older woman who has neither station nor potential. They take advantage of one another for the time being, both knowing that they will move on. But young Michael is not fully aware of this old story because his station in life is, although above hers, still rather modest, and being fifteen and knowing a woman for the first time, he is in love as much as--or even more than--a fifteen-year-old can be.

She is short with him and selfish because she knows she will be tossed aside and so instinctively knows she needs to get something now. She calls him "kid" and consumes him, as would be the case in such a relationship. Yet there is his "reading." He has a talent for it and he enjoys reading to her. At one point she instructs him, reading first and then making love.

What is love? Hanna Schmidt does not know. And so her character is triply flawed. She has low self-esteem, hiding her illiteracy from all. She is removed from her feelings because of the past. That is how she has coped. What she has done she knows on one level was something horrendous; but on another level she only took the job at Siemens. What else was she to do? She was a guard. She had to guard the prisoners, otherwise there would be chaos. This is her defense. This is her belief. And finally, she cares for young Michael as she cares for herself, as one might care for valuable livestock, but she neither loves him nor herself. For again "What is love," as Tina Turner once had it, "but a second-hand emotion"?

At the end we see her, an old woman in prison being visited by the adult Michael Berg. She has put out her hand to him, and he, being human, has touched it. But he has withdrawn his hand. And now they stand and she leans, ever so slightly toward him to be hugged perhaps, to be touched for perhaps the first time in decades. But he does not respond. He cannot.

This echoes back to an earlier scene when he, as a young law student suddenly finds himself observing her trial. He realizes that she is taking the blame for the deaths of the Jewish "prisoners" because she would rather do that then reveal that she cannot read or write. It is interesting that young Berg realizes the truth of why she liked to be read to only then. And so he thinks to save her by letting the court know that she could not have written the order that condemned the prisoners to death. And so he makes an appointment to go to the prison and see her. But as she waits for her unknown visitor to arrive, he suddenly turns away. What he realizes, one speculates, is that there is nothing he can say to her or to the court that will change anything. Whether she wrote the actual order or not really doesn't matter. The others get off with lighter sentences, but all of them are equally guilty of whatever it was that was that allowed the German psyche to allow the holocaust. And too Berg is not clear about how he feels. Here is a woman he once loved who now is revealed as a monster. Yes, she is a monster, but strange to say almost an innocent monster.

It is curious that Berg so deeply loved her that he acquires her trait of emotional distance. He learns he can only sleep alone. His marriage fails. He is not as close to his daughter as he would like. And finally he is not able to help Hanna when she is alone in prison. He cannot bring himself to respond to her letters. And yet he reads to her. Hour after hour after hour he reads the classics into a microphone and sends the tapes to her to listen to in prison.

I wonder how this was received in Germany. There is such a guilt that hangs over the generations after the war. I wonder what they think of the humanization of a certain familiar mentality. And I must add that this mentality that follows orders and does its duty to the exclusive of its humanity is not something special with the Germans of that era. It is a human trait that is expressive of a human type that can be found in any society.

This is a deeply moving film, exquisitely written and directed and wondrously acted by especially the great Kate Winslet, and Ralph Fiennes who plays the older Michael Berg, and David Kross who plays the younger Michael Berg. The Reader is easily the best film I've seen during the past year."