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Reader, The (Blu-ray Review)

6 Apr, 2009 By: John Latchem

The Reader

Street 4/14/09, Blu-ray Street 4/28/09
Box Office $33.5 million
$29.95 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for some scenes of sexuality and nudity.
Stars Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross, Lena Olin.

While the title of The Reader is effective in its simplicity, a more accurate moniker would have been The Illiterate Pedophiliac Nazi.

The plot spans four distinct time periods in the life of Michael Berg, played in his formative years by David Kross and as an adult by Ralph Fiennes. In 1958, the 15-year-old Michael meets 36-year-old Hanna (Kate Winslet in her Oscar-winning role), who seduces him so that he will read to her each night. The copious amount of sex and nudity evokes a similar feeling to the 1992 film The Lover, with the roles reversed.

After a summer of love, Hanna abruptly moves away, forever tainting Michael’s relationships with women.

Years later, when Michael’s law school class attends a war-crimes trial of six women accused of keeping 300 Jews locked inside a burning church while serving as SS guards. Hanna’s cold detachment and naivety practically assures her conviction, but she would rather confess to worse crimes than admit she can’t read.

Michael deduces her secret but chooses to remain silent rather than admit to their affair, a decision that haunts him years later.

The film is more successful as an acting exercise than it is at capturing the themes of the novel upon which it is based. Bernhard Schlink’s book is a treatise about how the impact of horrific events fades over time. It uses the example of the Jewish Holocaust and how it is remembered over successive generations. The film waters down the book’s Holocaust message into a simpler coming-of-age story that seems to put more of the emphasis on Hanna’s illiteracy. A few lines of dialogue pay lip service to the book’s main themes, but the connection is stronger in a few of the deleted scenes.

Instead, the film is more a reflection on how guilt and shame guide human interaction. It’s a heartfelt attempt, but nowhere near as powerful as it could have been.

The film’s tenuous connection to the Holocaust was probably more than enough reason for the Oscars to justify giving it a best picture nomination over the much more deserving The Dark Knight.

The DVD and Blu-ray versions offer the same bonus material, including 42 minutes of deleted and extended scenes and a handful of effective behind-the-scenes featurettes.

The primary making-of program, “Adapting a Timeless Masterpiece,” is an enlightening look at the creative processes involved in adapting the novel and casting the film.

“Kate Winslet on the Art of Aging Hanna Schmitz” serves as a fitting tribute to the actress’ acclaimed performance, guiding viewers through the process of how make-up was used to age her 30 years.

Also included is an amusing interview with Kross and director Stephen Daldry, and featurettes focusing on the film’s music and production design.

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