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With: Ralph Fiennes, Kate Winslet, David Kross, Jeanette Hain, Susanne Lothar, Alissa Wilms, Florian Bartholom�i, Friederike Becht, Matthias Habich, Bruno Ganz, Volker Bruch, Lena Olin, Alexandra Maria Lara
Written by: David Hare, based on a novel by Bernhard Schlink
Directed by: Stephen Daldry
MPAA Rating: R for some scenes of sexuality and nudity
Running Time: 123
Date: 12/10/2008

The Reader (2008)

2 Stars (out of 4)

By the Book

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Reader offers up a perfect package for Kate Winslet to win her first Oscar, after five nominations. (And if this doesn't do the trick, she still has the equally grim Revolutionary Road coming soon.) She gets to wear ugly makeup (beautiful actresses never win for being beautiful) and play in highly dramatic love scenes and courtroom scenes. The film also has World War II themes and is based on an important novel (by Bernhard Schlink). She plays Hanna Schmitz, a former worker for the SS employed a decade later as a streetcar ticket-taker in Germany. By chance, she meets a teenage boy, Michael Berg (David Kross), who was sick on her train. They become lovers, but soon she begins making him read to her before and after their lovemaking sessions. Years later, Michael is a law student and his class coincidentally attends a trial in which Hanna must address her war crimes. (He, of course, didn't know about her past.) Years after that, Michael grows up to be Ralph Fiennes and he sends her tapes of himself reading books. I guess that's about it. Writer David Hare and director Stephen Daldry (who both made The Hours in 2002) don't seem particularly interested in the material; rather, the picture seems cranked out by a computer that has been programmed to make Oscar nominees. All of the Germans speak English, and little details -- such as the various possible translations of Chekhov -- are ignored. And the film's big surprise (that Hanna is illiterate) isn't much of a surprise, given the clumsy way the filmmakers plant clues. Most of their attention is focused on the young, pouty, pretty-boy Kross (who ultimately looks absolutely nothing like Fiennes) and his many nude and shirtless scenes. Bruno Ganz, however, has some good moments as a law professor.

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