Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Reader (2008)

Kate Winslet = A.
Right off the bat, I'm not going to say that this is Winslet's best performance, but it would be in her top five. I'm also going to say that she should have won the Oscar for this, it's at the right time, the right performance, the right movie. Now, onto the actual performance. I must admit that it's hard to review, but I will say that Winslet avoids so many easy pitfalls for her character, she doesn't condescend to making Hanna just a victim and endearing herself to the viewer. Throughout the entire film, Winslet aims for the ambiguous treatment of the entire movie by not playing Hanna as though she is outright a villain or outright a victim. She is always the woman who is flawed and either not sure of the brutality of her crimes or not willing to accept it. I also give her massive kudos for not needlessly complicating Hanna and clinging to the simple concepts of shame and complicity in a way that only illuminates the darker shades of the character. And some of those small moments where her face just breaks are what kills me; such as at the train station when she learns of her promotion and at the trial, where she has one decision to make. It's just proof that Winslet is one of our greats and she's only going to continue improving.

David Kross = A-/B+.
Kross shares a great many scenes with the formidable Winslet, but he never cedes them over to her. Even though the spotlight is clearly on Winslet, Kross never forgets that his character is at the centre of the piece and it is through him that we gain a very crucial knowledge of Hanna; Hanna the human being and lover, as opposed to Hanna the criminal. For such a young actor, Kross gets some of the much subtler comic beats of his character nailed down pat and even the difficult transition of his character from wide-eyed youth to jaded college student is handled with a mature grace and clear knowledge of the craft. Like Winslet, he grips the viewer's heart and gut with a vice in some of his scenes, "Do you love me?" being the best momment of any of these. An actor to watch in the future.

Ralph Fiennes = B.
Fiennes got the short end of the stick in terms of plot and character; he has the most difficult and least actor-friendly parts of the movie. And when he doesn't have those, he has the some of the most cliched parts, such as the very tacked on ending. However, when he does hit the right notes, such as in his scene with Lena Olin, he does hit it. But it's merely a competent performance of a role that really exists for other actors to bounce off of.

Lena Olin = A.
Olin is a chronically underappreciated actress who sadly very rarely appears in projects and roles worthy of her distinct talent and clarity, so when she does appear in anything, I eat her right up. The Reader is easily her best performance since her season-long role in Alias, not that there's a lot of competition. She has two distinct performances that are so different, so we get more Olin for our buck! In her first scene, she does a similar thing to Viola Davis in her role, lacking perhaps the same sumptuous dialogue and emotional hooks provided by the screenplay that Davis had. She still manages to bring up massive amounts of previously sealed torment and heartbreak without being overly loud or direct about it. In her second scene, she crucifies Michael with questions that leaves the film a lot more complex and interesting than it would be if the character hadn't graced the movie, or if the actress hadn't layered this character with that same scathing lack of sympathy and empathy with our troubled 'hero'. Two beautiful performances from an actress who plays from the edges superbly.

Other Notable Performances:
Alexandra Maria Lara - Maria Lara has practically no screentime in this movie, but I found her to be vivid in her brief appearences, and her wink towards Michael took me aback a little and I wondered if the movie was trying to suggest anything by it. Still, an actress to watch out for.
Linda Bassett - It took me a while to remember where I recognized this actress from; Daldry's previous film, The Hours, but she delivers even more of an impact this time around with Daldry; she paints a regrettably but unavoidably sparse portrait of a woman just doing her job and trying to do the best for a woman with literally nothing left. Made me wish that this actress was given better parts.

Overall Movie Grade = A/A-.

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