Stephen Daldry Week: The Reader

Introduction

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

This review was initially to be posted during a theme week focused on Daldry’s work that has not come to fruition. Regardless, enjoy this take on The Reader as part of his oeuvre. 

The Reader (2008)

The Reader will open its second weekend in Wilmington on Friday, nearly two months after its wide release date.

The Reader fell into an unusual group of films being a Weinstein Company project it’s an indie that expected a wide audience which made Wilmington, DE a hard market to hit.

I had struggled to see The Reader for months. Its release was small and my schedule didn’t make a trip to Philadelphia an easy task. I was surprised to find last Monday that the now Academy Award winning film was at my local theater. I thought it would never hit the Regal Brandywine 16 but that’s what and Oscar will get you: the exposure you deserve.

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The film is excellent and asks hard questions that are unanswerable but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be asked.

These questions being:

1. How do you reconcile unimaginable crimes with the person that you knew?

2. Would you have the courage to do what was right knowing you would be a pariah if you did so?

3. If you failed to do right to what lengths would you go in order to pay penance?

4. When considering such heinous crimes against humanity what punishment can truly be considered justice served?

These are compelling probing questions that make us somewhat uncomfortable makes for great drama. I think a lot of the disconnect that mass audiences might feel in relation to this film is due to the fact the film dabbles in grey. The characters aren’t black and white like we’re used to seeing them. All the characters are flawed but if you think of some of the great films of the ’70s all the characters are flawed and the drama is more real.

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Another difficulty people may face is that a lot of Hannah’s (Kate Winslet) behavior and her interaction with Michael (David Kross) seems unnatural until you think about it in retrospect. You think she’s being unreasonable, flighty, stereotypically female, too easily changing her mind. Later we discover that she reacted to him as if he were a temporary prisoner. Every day after school he was there, it seemed mandatory. She dictated the order of the interaction and made reading go first before love-making. Everything was on her terms.

However, due to the power of Miss Winslet’s performance we could almost imagine here before World War II as a socially inept, isolated woman. Being a guard allowed her to interact with people who have no choice.

Director Stephen Daldry once again toys with time effortlessly as he did in ‘The Hours.’ The pacing of the film is so exacting that the titles on screen indicating to us the year were almost unnecessary as we feel the time go by because we follow these people.

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The score by Nico Muhly is spot on as this film needed a constantly mounting crescendo feeling as opposed to the haunting tones Philip Glass gave to The Hours.

The film is indeed worth seeing, although those going only to see Kate Winslet may be disappointed. Her greatness in this role is felt more by impact than by quantity of screen time. It is David Kross who carries the film and he does so effortlessly as if he’s been acting forever. It is a film that unquestionably resonates, grows and makes you think long after you’ve stopped watching it. Just because you’re done with it doesn’t mean it’s done with you.

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