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The Reader (2008)

The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 4/14/2009

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/13/2009

Earlier this year, you may have seen some quotes from Kate Winslet who stated that she has no intention to do nude scenes in any future films. She said, "I can't keep getting away with it, and I don't want to become 'that actress who always gets her kit off." Now, we could speculate all day about why she made that decision. Was it a moral thing? Does she feel that it would sully the fact that she's getting a lot of critical praise? Or could it have something to do with the fact that she's packed a whole career's worth of nudity into The Reader? I can only imagine that the wardrobe people on this film loved her because they rarely had to bother with her. Seriously, how 'bout you start wearing a shirt to work, Jack? And while this may get the attention of some readers, there are far better attributes to this film.

The Reader opens in Berlin in 1958. Fifteen-year old Michael Berg (David Kross) is riding the trolley home from school when he suddenly feels ill. He exits and tries to walk home, but vomits in the entryway to a building. Hannah (Kate Winslet), the trolley attendant, helps him get home. Michael is diagnosed with scarlet fever and confined to bed-rest. Once he's better, he goes to visit Hannah to thank her, and despite the fact that she's over 20 years older than him, they begin a torrid love affair. Michael rushes from school to her apartment to be with her. Hannah asks Michael about his studies and soon he is reading novels and poems to her as part of their routine. While Hannah is physically open to Michael, she is closed off emotionally, as she hides a shameful secret. Years later, Michael will meet Hannah again, and learn that she was able to keep hidden the darkest secret of all.

This film is the perfect combination of AP-English style literature and very skilled filmmaking. The story takes place over a span of nearly 40 years and in addition to the plot outlined in the above synopsis, we also see Michael years later (played by Ralph Fiennes), who is now a judge, but still dealing with his relationship with Hannah. A less talented director could have easily made this material inaccessible and obtuse, but Director Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours) understands that the power of this story lies in the characters and in the shocking revelations which come as we get to know them.

It's truly refreshing to see a film of this caliber which has a good story and knows how to tell it. The film works because of its subtle shifts in tone and direction (The Reader is one of those movies which is best viewed with little prior knowledge of the story). At the outset, we think that this will be some sort of Euro-romance film where the older woman teaches the younger man about the pleasures of the flesh. We then realize that there is something odd about Hannah -- something that Michael can't see, because, let's be honest, he's so thrilled to be having sex with this woman over twice his age. Then, the movie suddenly shifts and it looks like it's just going to be about Michael's life, but when the original storyline returns, it does so with a shocking twist which makes the risque opening seem tame in comparison. I will say that I think the film runs out of steam in the second half. The finale is quite emotional, but it would be difficult for any film to maintain the impact of the storyline from the first two acts. (And, I can't help but wonder what kind of lawyer Michael is if it took him so long to learn Hannah's first secret. The audience will pick up on it in minutes.)

As one would expect from a this sort of film, the acting in The Reader is top-notch. Winslet could be labeled a brave actress for shedding her clothing in the movie, but her real achievement here is how she seemingly foregoes any makeup, allowing herself to look old and tired. Hannah is a closed book (no pun intended), but we can see a sea of emotions boiling within her, and Winslet's accolades for this role were certainly deserved. David Kross (who had to learn English for the role) is very good as the young Michael. He does a wonderful job of portraying the emotional growth through which this character goes. Fiennes is solid in his role as older Michael, but I couldn't help but wonder if he wasn't constantly thinking of new ways to kill Harry Potter.

The Reader invents the cougar on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 32 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only a hint of grain in some shots and no defects from the source material. The picture shows an incredible amount of depth at times (some of the best that I've seen), as there is a distinct, faux 3-D space between the foreground and background. The image also shows of a nice level of detail. The colors look very good and the picture is never too dark or bright. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. As one would expect, The Reader is the typical drama which doesn't contain a ton of great audio effects. However, there are certain street and crowd scenes where the mix boasts robust stereo and surround effects. (Especially when Michael first visits Hannah and a construction crew is working behind him.) There isn't' much in the way of subwoofer effects, but those front and rear channel goodies are enough to let you know that this is a solid audio presentation.

The Reader Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. The Disc contains 11 DELETED SCENES which run about 42 minutes. The bulk of these scenes are simply longer versions of moments from the movie. These longer scenes contain some quiet moments which shed more light on the relationship between Michael and Hannah. There are also extended scenes of Michael in the present and at the trial. "Adapting a Timeless Masterpiece: Making The Reader" (23 minutes) contains interviews with the director, writer, producer, and author, who discuss how the project came together. The piece then looks at the actors and characters, offering comments from the cast. We then get a discussion of the film's production, complete with on-set footage. "A Conversation with David Kross & Stephen Daldry" (10 minutes) is a mixture of interviews with the actor and director. "Kate Winslet on the Art of Aging Hanna Schmitz" (13 minutes) explores the special effects makeup which were used on the actress. "A New Voice: A Look at Composer Nico Muhly" (4 minutes) shows the musician at work on the music for the film. "Coming to Grips with the Past: Production Designer Brigitte Broch" (7 minutes) is an interview with the artist and Director Daldry who discuss how they arrived on the look of the film. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long