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"The Reader"

Directed by Stephen Daldry.
Written by David Hare.  Based on the novel by Bernhard Schlink.
Starring David Kross, Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes and Lena Olin.
Release Year:  2008
Review Date:  12/27/08


That Kate Winslet is a likable actress; she almost always picks quality products and she really loves walking around naked.

In "The Reader", she's naked so much that I just felt weird when she had clothes on.  Taking the European filmmaking approach, the film is able to tell a story that is both very dramatic, very sensual and occasionally amusing all while having its leads spend the majority of the first third of the film stark-ass naked.  And, I liked it a lot!

We start in 1995, where an older gent named Michael Berg (Ralph Fiennes) is finishing up with a lovely woman and essentially telling her that she'll really never get to know him.  Flashback, then, to 1958, where 15-year-old Michael (played young by David Kross) meets a 35-year-old trolley attendant named Hanna (Winslet) and decides that Michael is the kind of boy she'd like to get to know THAT way.  She also really enjoys that Michael loves to read, so in-between their lovemaking, Michael reads the classics to Hanna at her bedside.  Their affair lasts a summer, until Hanna is promoted out of her trolley job and she moves away from her apartment in Berlin, leaving Michael without his first true love.

Eight years later, while attending law school, Michael and some classmates attend open trials of accused prison guards at Auschwitz for their roles in the mass murder of more than 300 Jews at a prison fire.  Wait, is that Hanna on the defendant side as one of six accused guards??  It is, and for the rest of the film, we learn a little more about Hanna's time before we met her in '58, with plenty of flash forwards to adult Michael's handling of his affair with Hanna.

The film is deep, but it has a pile of great small moments thanks to the young Michael/Hanna relationship, the Auschwitz trials, Michael's conscience in the concealment of evidence late in the film, and even great moments late with adult Michael's daughter (Hannah Herzsprung) and a surviving victim of the camps (played in two roles by Lena Olin).  I haven't read any reviews yet by "real" critics, but if I had to guess, many of them would call this movie a plethora, or maybe a movie chock-full of, "movie moments", and Winslet is so good that she makes all of her scenes fabulous.  Fiennes was actually a minor disappointment here, which means that he was good, but not as bad-ass as he normally is.  I was surprised that Kross was so good as young Michael; all I could think for the first half of the film was, "How does a kid keep his cool while doing a dozen nude scenes with Kate Winslet?"  Seriously, you'll do this, too!

The soundtrack is great, the photography is great, and the ending is great.  The movie has an epic feel to it thanks to the time-trotting and, at two hours, it has a longer feel to it, but the filmmakers do a good job of mixing things up just enough to not make it feel like it's dragging (and, trust me, I saw this during my normal nap time, so I would know if it was draggin'!).  Director Stephen Daldry also did "The Hours" and "Billy Elliot", so his street cred helps solidify an already strong piece of work.

This one'll be a player during Oscar season!

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09