The Reader (15)
Time Out rating:
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Time Out says
Tue Dec 30 2008Ralph Fiennes is Michael Berg, the present-day narrator of this film and Bernard Schlink’s 1995 novel, a middle-aged German lawyer whom we first encounter making breakfast for a younger bedfellow but refusing to exchange intimacy for commitment. We reconvene in 1958 and 15-year-old Michael (David Kross), a clever child from an academic family, loses his virginity to taciturn Hanna (Kate Winslet), a mysterious, 36-year-old trolleybus worker whom he encounters in the street. He falls in love; she enjoys hearing him read from Tolstoy until she disappears one day without warning. Several years later, Michael, a law student, encounters Hanna in a new context – one that reveals devastating facts about his former lover. A new, unusual relationship emerges, at a distance, and one that stretches over many years. To reveal more would damage the debate at the film’s heart: an argument that pitches feelings against facts and, necessarily, asks more questions than it answers.
David Hare’s unshowy, thoughtful screenplay, Stephen Daldry’s unfussy direction and Roger Deakins and Chris Menges’s impressive cinematography are faithful to the detail and tenor of Schlink’s novel, which is a complex beast in simple clothing. ‘The Reader’ has been called a Holocaust film but that’s not entirely accurate. It would be better tagged a post-Holocaust work as it pitches itself between the known facts of that cataclysm and the unanswerable philosophical questions of its fallout relating to responsibility, law, justice and forgiveness; all the while considering education, and literacy, as crucial to those debates. Its dynamic is generational: Schlink and Berg are second-generation voices, embroiled in first-generation issues, addressing a third-generation audience. Its issues are infinite and moveable. It’s a bold and challenging work.
Author: Dave Calhoun