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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Holocaust > WWII > The Reader (2008/Genius Blu-ray)

The Reader (2008/Genius Blu-ray)


Picture: B+     Sound: B     Extras: C+     Film: C+



It is tricky doing any film on The Holocaust without getting criticism and there are so many, that there may even be too many, no matter how well intended.  Stephen Daldry’s film of Bernhard Schlink’s book The Reader (2008) is a film with good intentions about the affair of a young man and an older woman (Kate Winslet) during WWII when she is part of Nazi operations at a death camp.  Is she a killer fascist?  Is she an evil woman?  Or is his view of her as a good woman accurate to some extent and she is not a war criminal?


Of course, they love to read books, but being literate is not the opposite of being guilty of genocide by any means.  We learn about the two of them in flashback (Ralph Fiennes is the young man as adult) in the ups and downs of their relationship.  As she is involved with this young man and shows her human side, it turns out she is a guard at said camp and later in legal trials, that she was being told to decide who lives and who dies by who should be transported on certain days.


The argument the film tires to make is that we should sympathize with her, this Nazi camp guards, despite the crimes she was involved in because she was pushed into them by the situation of fascist conformity and is a victim of circumstance in her own way.  She is asked why she was not objecting to what was going on, which is easy to say when guns are not being pointed at you.  I do believe some people were victims of circumstance, conformity and bullying.  The recent Bush II years show how that is possible.


However, the film asks us to sympathize with her as a Nazi guard without even beginning to deal with the complexities of how this does and does not work, substituting melodrama with the hard facts of genocide and its many consequences.  It is not to say the film is pro-Nazi or that the makers are not bright or take the Holocaust seriously.  They do.  However, they (and especially Baldry) are so busy trying to tell a book-like narrative that the film backfires and does sadly ask us to sympathize with a Nazi guard unquestionably; a dangerous thing.  So why see the film?


Simple.  Kate Winslet is so excellent playing the woman trapped in the situation that she outacts all the flaws and problems with the film.  In her work, her face, her body language, the diversity of her performance and her overall range speaks everything we need to know about a woman trapped in such a situation.  In Winslet’s hands, Hanna Schmitz is one of those women who was pulled in by the situation and not an outright killer, but trapped to enough of an extent that many would have acted the same way she did, no matter how good a person.  However, the film is not a character study of this and falls short.  Winslet does not and that is why it is one of the greatest performances she will ever give and was deserving of the Academy Award.  As for the film that really examines this situation, that has yet to be made.  Still, The Reader is worth seeing once just for her.



The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image is one of the best Genius has issued to date with fine detail, depth and color throughout.  This holds in scenes no matter the era and Director of Photography Chris Menges delivers on his reputation as a great cameraman again.  The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix is superior to the more limited Dolby Digital 5.1 mix being warmer and richer, even for a dialogue-based film.


Extras include five featurettes including interview segments, the original theatrical trailer and deleted scenes.  They were serious about making this work, even if they fell short.  Overall, an interesting Blu-ray release.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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