February 3, 2009
It is the underlying tone of Stephen Daldry's The Reader, a movie about shame and torment which headlines Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes and David Kross. It is the story of Michael Berg (David Kross as the younger Michael and Ralph Fiennes as the older) who at 15 has an affair with mysterious Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet). The affair only lasts one summer but has greatly affected Michael's life. A few years later, Michael now a law student, encounters Hanna again but this time she's being accused of Nazi war crimes. What follows is an intense portrait of guilt, shame and torment. It's one of those movies where you have a preconception about where it's going but as the plot evolves it totally surprises you as an audience member.....or at least that was my experience.
David Hare's script is riveting and Stephen Daldry's direction is exquisite. The pace, subtlety and attention to detail such as hand movements, eye and facial close-ups gives a palpable emotional impact. There is actually a Stephen Daldry-ish feel to the movie which I can't quite describe but if you've seen The Hours or Billy Elliot you'll know what I mean. Kate Winslet's understated acting is phenomenal and draws the audience to have empathy to a character you'd think you should hate. David Kross is heartbreaking as a tormented Michael. Ralph Fiennes, also very understated in this film, is stirring as he tries to understand and make peace with his past.
It's nominated for 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Director and Best Cinematography. So far, it's my favorite among the nominated movies that I've seen. Make sure you get to see it.