The Reader (2008) Review

16 06 2011

Copyright 2008 The Weinstein Company

★ ★ ★

I caught this movie just after it was nominated for Best Picture a couple years ago.  I can see why it was nominated only so far as it is the usual style of film that appeals to the Academy (again, period piece, historical, drama – you get the picture).

When a young man named Michael Berg (David Kross) falls ill, he is taken in by an older woman to recoup, Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet).  On return to thank her for her kindness, the two strike up a romantic relationship despite their age difference.  Michael continues visiting and, in addition to their romantic endeavors, reads to her from various classic novels.  One day she disappears and Michael can’t find her anywhere.  Eight years later, he runs into her again while a law student analyzing a criminal trial.  Hanna is one of the women on trial where she is alleged to have been a female guard at the Auschwitz concentration camp.  Without spoiling what happens next, the decision of the trial and occurrences after deeply impact both of their lives.  The older Michael Berg is played by Ralph Fiennes.

The story is structured around three distinct narratives: the early relationship when Michael is a boy, his time as a law student eight years later and, finally, him as a grown man.  The narrative weaves between all three distinct parts of his life.  Though, in premise, the story sounds entertaining, the film as a whole really is a rather bland effort.  The cinematography by Roger Deakins and Chris Menges is outstanding, but other than that, the direction by Stephen Daldry, pacing, acting and story flow all just seem rather boring and cliched.

It’s not a bad film, but how it managed five Academy Award nominations blows my mind.  Kate Winslet won a much deserved career Oscar for this film, but in my opinion, she should have won it for the much better film and performance from this same year, Revolutionary Road.


The Accused (1988) Review

12 05 2011

Copyright 1988 Paramount Pictures (Canada)

★ ★ 1/2

This film was recently added to the instant queue and, since its got an Academy Award-winning performance in it, I decided to give it a try.  I can’t say that I was too impressed overall and, don’t get me wrong, it’s not because of the delicate subject matter being a put off; I just don’t think this was a very good movie.

Directed by Jonathan Kaplan, the movie is loosely based on a true story that happened in Massachusetts in 1983.  Jodie Foster plays Sarah Tobias, a low, working class waitress, who is gang raped at a dive bar by three different men during a late night of drinking and doing drugs.  The prosecutor for her case, Kathryn Murphy (Kelly McGills), agrees to a plea bargain with each of the three men and they get 3-5 years in prison; however, in the plea bargain their crime is not listed as rape, but as a lesser offense.  Tobias is, understandably, upset over not getting to tell her story in court and the light punishment the three men receive for the heinous crime they committed against her.  Soon after, in a video store, a man starts to taunt her and associate her with the rape victim from the bar.  She wrecks her car into his truck out of frustration and it is found that this man was in the bar that night as one of the cheering crowd who watched the rape.  Murphy, determined to bring justice and make up for the plea bargain of the assailants, brings a case against three patrons of the bar who cheered the other men on, trying to convict them as accessories to the crime.  A court case is held and Tobias gets to tell her story, as well as a key witness who is a friend of one of the assailants.  Is retribution achieved?  I’ll let you watch the film if you want to find out, though I’m sure you can probably guess and figure it out.

The story for this film is a decent premise for a courtroom drama, but it just kind of fizzles out over the course of the movie.  The whole film seems like a good premise for a movie, but just doesn’t fully work in execution.  Kaplan’s direction was completely and utterly boring.  Every shot felt as if it were out of a filmmaking 101 textbook.  Furthermore, the one supposed shining moment of the film, the Academy Award-winning performance by Jodie Foster, didn’t really knock my socks off.  Sure, she had some great scenes and it was an impressive performance, but I wouldn’t call it electrifying or stand-out as some critics have suggested.  It most certainly is not the caliber of performance she delivered for her second Oscar in Silence of the Lambs.

Maybe I saw this film on a bad night or something, but I just couldn’t get into it.  It’s rated pretty well by IMDB and most critics seemed to generally like it.  For me, it’s not terrible, but it’s nothing to write home about either.

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