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When he falls ill on his way home from school, 15 year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. The two begin an unexpected and passionate affair only for Hanna to suddenly and inexplicably disappear. Eight years later, Michael, now a young law student observing Nazi war trials, meets his former lover again, under very different circumstances. Hanna is on trial for a hideous crime, and as she refuses to defend herself, Michael gradually realizes his boyhood love may be guarding a secret she considers to be more shameful than murder.
For more about The Reader and the The Reader Blu-ray release, see the The Reader Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on April 26, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross, Bruno Ganz, Matthias Habich, Susanne Lothar
Director: Stephen Daldry
» See full cast & crew
The Reader Blu-ray Review
The Academy's dark horse earns an impressive Blu-ray release...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, April 26, 2009
Every now and then a film comes along that seems hand-crafted and fine-tuned for Academy consideration. The Reader -- the lone 2008 Best Picture nominee most Oscar-hounds failed to catch during its theatrical run -- is just such a film. Both an intense character study and a simmering psychodrama, a provocative morality play and an unrelenting romance, director Stephen Daldry's unsettling post-WWII period piece offers a pair of stirring lead performances, scene after scene of striking cinematography, and an incredibly challenging script that resonates long after the end credits have finished their crawl. While I'm sure its slowburn pacing and ambiguous assertions won't be to everyone's liking, I couldn't take my eyes off the screen.
Based on German author Bernhard Schlink's award-winning novel of the same name, The Reader tells the unequivocally devastating tale of Michael Berg (David Kross), a fifteen-year old boy who becomes embroiled in a torrid affair with a middle-aged German woman named Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet). Told through the flashbacks of an older man (Ralph Fiennes) who's reconnecting with his daughter (Hannah Herzsprung), the film explores duality, dependency, truth, and morality through an unflinching, at-times unforgiving lens. As the story gets underway, we learn that the couple's trysts consist of little more than heated sexual encounters... that is until Michael begins to read selections from classic literature to his all-too-eager muse. Before long, the two fall in love. But while their feelings flourish for a time, the young man's budding adolescent friendships remind Hanna that theirs is a forbidden attraction vulnerable to pain and heartache. When a clerical promotion gives her the excuse she needs, she removes herself from Michael's life and disappears.
Eight years later, Michael (now a law student at Heidelberg University) attends the trial of several female SS officers accused of killing hundreds of Jewish prisoners at the end of WWII. To his shock and surprise, Hanna is one of the defendants. Struggling to understand how she could be involved in such heinous crimes, he attends the proceedings and attempts to sort through a steady stream of conflicting emotions. But when the other defendants conspire to shift most of the blame to Hanna, Michael is faced with a choice -- give information to the authorities that could help her case or abandon her as she once did him. Fighting to come to terms with lost love, lingering faithfulness, and wavering disgust, Michael makes a decision that will redefine his life for decades to come.
During its first forty-five minutes, I didn't know what to make of The Reader. Its characters were certainly intriguing and the particulars of its story steeped in mystery, but Daldry often seemed more interested in studying Winslet's nipples than anything of importance. And while well-conceived tensions continually threatened to derail Michael and Hanna's relationship, Kross' bumbling pursuits and Winslet's unexpected reaction to story and song left me wondering where everything was going. Thankfully, the moment Michael realized the culmination of his young desire was sitting amidst the monsters of Auschwitz, the film came alive. Previously established character traits were instantly imbued with reason and context, Hanna's occasional emotional outbursts immediately made more sense, and the otherwise meandering plot exploded without warning. I suddenly went from lounging in my chair to sitting upright, desperately wondering what would happen next.
Kross and Winslet's performances are astounding, transcending stagecraft to create a pair of authentically flawed human beings. Even though Hanna's inadequacies stem from hidden wounds and Michael's merely from youthful exuberance and inexperience, the actors make their similarities far more powerful than their obvious differences. Age gives way to soulfulness, embarrassment gives way to acceptance, and anxiety gives way to stillness... all by way of Kross and Winslet's masterful control of temperament, expression, and personality. It's not often that I forget I'm watching a movie but, by the time the second act was barreling towards the end of Hanna's trial, I was completely immersed in Michael's confusion and distress. Winslet may be the only one who was honored with an Oscar nomination (and a subsequent win for Best Actress), but both performers deserve equal accolades for their masterful work.
I haven't had the opportunity yet to watch The Reader twice, but I imagine my second viewing will be more revealing and and even more rewarding than my first. Between Daldry's meticulous control of pacing and story, Kross and Winslet's phenomenal performances, and screenwriter David Hare's compelling script, this Oscar-nominated dark horse is a searing dual-character study that's sure to get under your skin and leave its mark.
The Reader Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Reader arrives on Blu-ray with a subdued but stunning 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that, aside for some slight edge enhancement, thoroughly outshines its drab and dreary genre brethren. Skintones (of which there are many) are natural and healthy; never flushed, never peaked, never too pale. Saturation is lovely as well, bolstering the lush hues and heavy shadows cinematographers Roger Deakins and Chris Menges rely on to grant dramatic scenes even more power. More importantly, delineation is revealing, dimensionality injects a convincing amount of depth into the image, and contrast is spot on throughout the film. Detail may not be as pristine as it is in the latest CG-laden actioner-of-the-month, but it does possess a filmic integrity that allows each shot to impress on its own merits. Textures are crisp and refined, the smallest freckle and lightest hair are visible, and foreground clarity is, dare I say, flawless. It helps that artifacting, banding, crush, and source noise are nowhere to be found. Sure, a fine mist of grain overlays the image at all times, but it's far too steady and unobtrusive to be any sort of distraction. As far as I'm concerned, the Blu-ray artisans at Weinstein have really outdone themselves this time with a truly remarkable presentation.
The Reader Blu-ray, Audio Quality
While The Reader's Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track doesn't lavish its wares as readily as the disc's video transfer, it nevertheless handles the film's uncomfortable silences, tricky courtroom acoustics, and hushed dialogue without a hitch. Voices and ambience don't inhabit a square space, they inhabit a living, breathing world. The rear speakers rarely assault the listener with aggressive activity, but constantly support the atmosphere of each scene -- the streets are teeming with realistic chatter and passing cars, hushed conversations are peppered with soft breathing, and the film's intermittent music is perfectly prioritized within the rest of the mix. The LFE channel makes its intentions known on even fewer occasions, yet still manages to inject notable weight and heft into on-screen objects and movement. Likewise, there aren't many scenes in which directionality steals the sonic show, but a lighthearted spring getaway, a tense cross-examination, and a troubling prison visit demonstrate the track's prowess and polish. Ultimately, even though it won't turn many heads or wake up the kids, The Reader still sounds quite good.
The Reader Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Though it doesn't offer as broad a supplemental package as Oscar-hounds might be hoping for, the Blu-ray edition of The Reader nevertheless offers a satisfying helping of special features. So much so that my only lingering complaint is that the video content is presented in standard definition.
The Reader Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
An acclaimed, award-winning film deserves an exceptional Blu-ray release and I'm pleased to report The Reader has earned one. Not only does it offer cinephiles a beautiful video transfer and a faithful TrueHD audio track, it delivers a satisfying supplemental package that delves into the production and includes more than forty-minutes of deleted scenes. If you haven't had the opportunity to experience this haunting Oscar-winner (of if you were already enveloped by its unflinching performances), be sure to give this disc your utmost attention. You won't be disappointed.
The Reader: Other Editions
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The Reader Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Reader Coming to Blu-ray - February 27, 2009
The Weinstein Company has announced that they will bring 'The Reader' to Blu-ray on April 28th, two weeks after the DVD release. This is the film that recently netted Kate Winslet the Academy Award for Best Actress. Technical specs have not been announced at this ...
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