With The Reader, director Stephen Daldry, working from David Hare’s well-written screenplay which is based on Bernhard Schlink’s novel of the same name, has crafted an excellent film. Elements of an intriguing character study are interwoven with a romantic/historical drama involving moral issues and the Holocaust, resulting in a very engaging and emotionally resonant whole.
Even though the story takes place in three different time periods, there is never any doubt about the chronology of events because the narrative moves fluidly back and forth in time. The three-dimensional, believably flawed central characters keep the viewer involved throughout the movie. While the film feels longer than its 124-minute running time, the deliberate pace allows the story and the characters to develop in a natural way.
The Reader boasts not one but two brilliant lead performances. Kate Winslet’s remarkably restrained and nuanced performance accentuates all of the complexities of Hanna Schmitz, the character she plays, and she inarguably deserves the Oscar she won. Equally impressive is David Kross in the role of the teenage Michael Berg: he perfectly conveys every single one of his character’s emotions and acts with unquestionable naturalness at all times, including the scenes in which he is naked in the presence of Winslet. The chemistry between the two actors is wonderful.
Although Ralph Fiennes is very good as the middle-aged Michael Berg, his performance does not have any particularly memorable qualities. Bruno Ganz, who portrays Adolf Hitler so superbly in the film Downfall, and Lena Olin deserve a mention for their great turns as Professor Rohl and Rose Mather/Ilana Mather (Olin plays two roles), respectively.
There is a respectful sensuality and a modicum of eroticism to the sex scenes and the scenes in which one or both of the main characters are nude. The intimate scenes do not strike me as inappropriate, but the 21-year age difference between the two characters and the fact that one of them is only 15 years old make such a reaction understandable.
Cinematographers Roger Deakins and Chris Menges beautifully capture each and every scene. The makeup department is also worthy of praise, especially for making Winslet look completely convincing as an old woman.