Director: Stephen Daldry
Many of the elements are there for the awards-season attention The Reader received, with impeccable acting and faultless cinematography chief amongst its virtues.
Yet this Holocaust-themed story, which director Stephen Daldry and writer David Hare have adapted from the bestseller by German author Bernhard Schlink, loses depth and emotion in the transition to the screen.
Moments that resonate so strongly in print — the illicit sex and the pre-coital book readings — seem almost tawdry or trite. It’s also uncomfortable watching what amounts to statutory rape, with an older woman seducing a young teenager.
Other scenes fail to make the full impact required of them, including the pivotal courtroom confrontations. Superlative acting mitigates the structural deficiences, particularly Kate Winslet’s Oscar-winning performance as Hanna, a woman we first meet at age 35 in the Germany of 1958 as she seduces 15-year-old Michael (newcomer David Kross).
Michael learns almost nothing about Hanna during his summer dalliance, and doesn’t see her again until a dozen years later, when she turns up in court charged with a horrific crime.
The film is bookended by an adult Michael (Ralph Fiennes) musing about his past and coming to grips with it.
The quality is there, but the message has already been imparted, to much greater effect, in similar films like Music Box and Apt Pupil.
Extras include deleted scenes and several featurettes, including one in which Winslet shows how much work and make-up it took to age her as Hanna.