Oscar-nominated ‘Reader’ is all too familiar | AspenTimes.com
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Oscar-nominated ‘Reader’ is all too familiar

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Times Weekly
Kate Winslet (Hanna Schmitz) and David Kross (Michael) star in Stephen Daldry's The Reader.
Melinda Sue Gordon, SMPSP |

Virtually everything in “The Reader” has been seen before: Stories about the Holocaust and its aftermath ” by the gazillions; Holocaust films that examine the “just following orders” defense ” done and done; Older woman-on-inappropriately-young-man sex ” check out last week’s issue of Rolling Stone; Kate Winslet’s breasts ” they’re everywhere. (In fact, if you like what’s on display in “The Reader,” there’s more where that came from in “Revolutionary Road,” also showing in the valley.)

It’s hard for me to see how director Stephen Daldry presents these elements in any fresh or illuminating way. And far more difficult to comprehend how “The Reader” ” based on Bernhard Schlink’s novel and with a screenplay by David Hare ” managed to snag a nomination for the Best Picture Oscar when so many other films are so much more deserving. (“The Visitor,” “Frozen River,” “Wall-E,” and “Doubt” are only the most obvious ones.)

Winslet’s lonely, sad-faced Hanna Schmitz stumbles upon a young man, Michael (David Kross), who is similarly troubled, in 1950s Germany. The two begin a secretive ” and sad, anxious ” affair. Michael’s desires are the obvious ones; Hanna’s more complex. More than the physical pleasure, she seems to enjoy the feeling of being in charge, and having Michael read to her: “The Odyssey,” “Huck Finn.”

Flash forward eight years. Michael is a law student observing a trial. Guess whose. Hanna is part of a group of women who had signed on with the Nazis during the war. They were looking for employment, not the chance to engage in the atrocity detailed in the courtroom. All fingers point to Hanna as the guard who led the barbarism ” but she’s got a piece of her history that she considers even more shameful, which neither she nor Michael are willing to reveal.

Hovering over this is the older version of Michael (Ralph Fiennes). He is not strictly necessary to the story, but he lets us see how Michael has been emotionally stunted by his participation. And he also figures in the conclusion ” intellectually complex on its surface, but in substance, neat and tidy and convenient.

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stewart@aspentimes.com


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