! SPOILER ALERT !
(This review contains plot details for “The Reader.” If it bothers you to read plot details before seeing a movie, then do not read further. You have been warned.)
Overall, watching “The Reader” was an enjoyable experience, but it does suffer from a few fatal flaws in my opinion.
This film tells the story of a 15-year-old German boy (played by David Kross) in the 1950s who falls in love with 33-year-old German woman (Kate Winslet). As their heavily sexual affair grows, it becomes apparent that she him reading books to her more than she enjoys what he sees as a romance. (We learn later that she is illiterate.)
A few years later, the boy is in law school and attends a Nazi War Crimes Trial, only to find that his former lover is one of the defendants. He learns that she was a guard at a concentration camp and is accused of 300 counts of murder.
For me, the key detail of the story is that Winslet’s character would rather go to prison for life than admit she can’t read. In trial, she admits to writing the condemning SS report, though she couldn’t have done so.
This is where the story falls apart for me. I know that many illiterate people are ashamed to admit they can’t read, but I believe any of them would speak up quickly if it meant saving their own lives from a prison sentence, especially for a War Crimes conviction. In fact, many people who can read and write would likely lie and claim to be illiterate if it meant saving their own hides.
Everything else in the story was completely believable. The film goes on to show the boy as a man (played by Ralph Fiennes), who sends tapes of himself reading to Winslet’s character in prison. It ends with Fiennes’ character telling his grown daughter about the experience, after his former lover has killed herself.
The set design, writing, acting, and cinematography were very well done, which is why I rate the movie as highly as I do, despite the weak ending and the fatal flaw mentioned above.
Conservative folks won’t like it because of the large quantity of nudity: Winslet and Kross are naked for much of the movie’s first half. According to IMDb.com, Kross was 17 when the movie began filming, but production waited until his 18th birthday before filming the nude scenes, which brings up another point: Isn’t it silly that they could film him nude the day after his birthday, but not the day before? I still think our arbitrary age limit laws are insane, but that’s a commentary on society and government, not on this movie.
Winslet won a best actress Oscar for her role, and she should have. Her performance carried the movie in my opinion. Kross wasn’t even nominated for best actor, though he probably should have been (especially considering other nominations included Brad Pitt in the “Benjamin Button” movie and Frank Langella in “Frost/Nixon.”) But Kross likely couldn’t have beat out Sean Penn’s fantastic job in “Milk.”
Conclusion: I’m glad I saw this movie, but I’m also glad I waited for the DVD.
IMDb: The Reader
Wikipedia: The Reader
(for some scenes of sexuality and nudity)
Length: 124 min. (2:04)
Director: Stephen Daldry
Genre: Drama / Romance
My Rating: 7 of 10
Kate Winslet, David Kross, Ralph Fiennes, Jeanette Hain