Heroes of the Zeroes: The Reader
Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.
Haters argued that ubiquitous blowhards Harvey and Bob Weinstein bought a 2008 Best Picture nomination for their studio’s “The Reader” with campaigning and clout.
Truth is “The Reader” outdid its Oscar peers that year — a decades-spanning drama that, like “Downfall” before it, went beyond facts into slippery human nature of lust, manipulation, retribution and doubt.
And although Kate Winslet’s Oscar came for the wrong role that year, she stunned as a woman of aching sexuality and stubborn pride, whose forlorn fate may have been the only morally acceptable option.
In 1958 Germany, dowdy Hanna Schmitz (Winslet) initiates a summer affair with 15-year-old Michael (David Kross). Feeding his quivering schoolboy fantasies, she enforces a critical tradeoff: Only after he reads her literary classics will they make love.
Hanna’s disappearance ends their fling, and they’re unexpectedly reunited in a 1966 court where she again dictates emotional terms. As a defendant, Hanna defiantly withholds information that could absolve her, while Michael, struggling with deep ethical quandaries, can’t divulge a critical secret.
Stephen Daldry’s film forsakes either potboiler twists or snap judgments, instead focusing on dicey emotional reparations that eventually unfold between Michael and Hanna. (Ralph Fiennes plays Michael as a boy in a man’s body, never comfortable in his own skin after that summer.)
Michael atones for his silence with scads of speech, but ironically, even those words aren’t his own. “The Reader” told a phenomenally tragic story of people eternally connected, but never knowing whether that’s by true love or unshakable regret.