The Reader


Directed by: Stephen Daldry
Written by:David Hare
Starring: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross, Lena Olin, Bruno Ganz
Released: February 19, 2009
Grade: A

When the Academy Award nominations were announced last month, The Reader caught many tipsters off guard. It picked up five nominations including a slot in the best picture category. It also earned Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours) his third nomination for best director. That’s pretty impressive when you consider that he’s only made three feature films in his entire life. Has that ever been achieved before?

There film has attracted criticism from those who believe it’s "just another holocaust movie." I have to disagree. There isn’t a single scene set during World War II. Whilst references are made to what happened at Auschwitz, this is ultimately a story about two people who struggle to be honest with each other. Are there certain things which are best kept hidden?

Michael Berg (Cross) and Hanna Schmitz (Winslet) first meet on the streets of Berlin in 1958. He is a 15 year old boy. She is a 36 year old woman. Each afternoon, he would come to her house for two reasons. The first is the most obvious and doesn’t require explanation. The second reason is that Hanna loved to be read to. They would lie in bed and Michael would read from the classic books that he was studying in school.

After several months, it all came to an abrupt end. Michael came by Hanna’s house to find it empty. She had gone. It was difficult to come to grips with. He was a love-struck teenager and his first true love had vanished without explanation.

The film then moves 8 years into the future where the two would be reunited. Now studying law at university, Michael sees Hanna on trial for her crimes during World War II. It turns out that Hanna was a guard at a Nazi concentration camp. She was one of six women responsible for guarding a church which accidentally caught fire. By not opening the locked doors, over 300 Jewish women died as a result. One of the few survivors had written a book which implicated Hanna Schmitz.

This is all news to Michael who now must battle his personal feelings for Hanna with this newly discovered information. It forces him to think about the Nazi war trials and whether they do provide justice. With so many people involved in the atrocities that took place, is it fair to single a select few out and punish them for their deeds?

As I’ve already alluded to, there are a few things to think about in The Reader. I know that some are outraged by the fact that it tries to make you sympathise with a Nazi solider. I didn’t really see it that way. I enjoyed it more for the exploration of the relationship between Michael and Hanna. These are two people who are inexplicably drawn to each other despite their differing ages and backgrounds. They try to fight their feelings but it’s a struggle to do so.

Terrific performances are turned in by Kate Winslet and David Kross in the leading roles. Ralph Fiennes plays the older version of Michael who pops in and out of the story, as it is told in flashback form. Bruno Ganz (who played Hitler in Downfall) also makes a great cameo.

Based on the novel by Bernhard Schlink, The Reader is moving drama which I look forward to seeing for a second time.