Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Reader - Movie Review

THE READER (***) - Starring Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross, Lena Olin and Bruno Ganz.
Directed by Stephen Daldry.

From the writer/director team who brought us The Hours, a movie that taught me that all women are secretly suicidal, bisexual manic-depressives. Now comes a movie that isn't any healthier with its characters, but it is more engrossing than I found that other movie to be.

We first meet Michael in 1995, embodied by Ralph Fiennes. We can tell from the sour, longing look on his face we're about to get a flashback, and so we do. We go back to 1958, when Michael was 15. He has an encounter with 34-year-old Hannah (Kate Winslet), a woman of strange abruptness who helps him clean the puke off his shoes when he gets sick in the rain. He goes back to her apartment to thank her later, one thing leads to another, and Michael loses his virginity.

Their summer romance goes on, with her insisting he read to her before they make love (including lots of gratuitous nudity). And then one day, she's gone.

We see the devastating impact she has on his life when years later, he sees her again, and he learns the truth of who she is.

I kept thinking to myself, "What if this were a story of a 34-year-old man deflowering a 15-year-old girl?" The movie is sympathetic to Hannah, even though she pretty much ruins Michael's chance at a normal life.

That said, there's a full-force campaign to get the multi-nominated Kate Winslet her first Academy Award in Supporting Actress, and I think this is the role that will do the trick. She shows all the torn emotions within Hannah, and there's never a false moment with her. David Kross is really good as young Michael, and Fiennes is his reliable self as the bookended older Michael. I also really liked Bruno Ganz as a college professor. There are things he does when he's just listening to young Michael that I loved, subtle things.

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