The Reader


Mixed or average reviews - based on 38 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 19 out of 38
  2. Negative: 2 out of 38

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Critic Reviews

  1. Reviewed by: Jenni Miller
    Winslet deserves an Oscar for her amazing performance.
  2. 91
    Kross and Winslet's intense performances and Daldry's deliberately placid control of tone make the material work as a love (and hate) story as well as a metaphor.
  3. The Reader is significant because -- like another film opening today, "Valkyrie" -- it asks us to see not just the Jews but the whole German people as victims of the Holocaust, and to view Nazism as more a product of explicable ignorance than inexplicable evil.
  4. 88
    The crucial decision in The Reader is made by a 24-year-old youth, who has information that might help a woman about to be sentenced to life in prison, but withholds it. He is ashamed to reveal his affair with this woman. By making this decision, he shifts the film's focus from the subject of German guilt about the Holocaust and turns it on the human race in general.
  5. 78
    There is a sense of ambiguity at the core of The Reader that makes it all the more brutal, all the more honest in its deflowering of love and what one imagines love ought to be instead of what it too often is.
  6. 75
    The Reader is closer to a near miss than a rousing success but, on balance, this is still worth seeing for those who enjoy complexity and moral ambiguity within the context of a melodrama.
  7. 75
    Winslet's fierce, unerring portrayal goes beyond acting, becoming a provocation that will keep you up nights.
  8. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    Though the effort is uneven, it's a well-acted romance that becomes a less compelling courtroom drama.
  9. Fiennes brings to the role a shimmering subtlety.
  10. With this film Daldry, previously the director of "Billy Elliot" and "The Hours," proves himself the screen's reigning master at showing passion thwarted or repressed.
  11. 75
    An immaculately crafted, splendidly acted drama with a message at its core of forgiveness and humanity. It's also blatantly manipulative, and, upon reflection, rather banal. In other words, it's the epitome of Oscar bait and almost serves as a step-by-step guide to creating such a beast.
  12. This coming-of-age portion is the less interesting half, though it has the more interesting Michael. We have seen Fiennes play an emotionally detached introvert so often that he brings nothing new to the role, apt though he is.
  13. An engaging period drama. But German postwar guilt is not the most winning subject matter for the holiday season.
  14. It is only, frankly, the strength of Winslet's performance that rises above conventional surroundings and makes The Reader the experience it should be.
  15. 70
    The revelation that Winslet’s character is a war criminal is the centerpiece of The Reader, but surrounding the Holocaust morality play is another story that’s more modestly scaled and, in this age of unashamed romance between older women and younger men, more contemporary.
  16. 70
    Bernhard Schlink's highly regarded novel "The Reader" receives a graceful, absorbing screen adaptation by director Stephen Daldry.
  17. The film is notable for its nice performances, its handsome photography, and its very active music. If the preceding praise sounds generic, so is the movie.
  18. 63
    Although the script works in a couple of pages of collegiate-level ethical debate about "the question of German guilt," what the movie is really interested in is the question of German sex. So think of it as "Schindler's Lust."
  19. 63
    The Reader doesn't do enough to explore the guilt and betrayal the adult Michael feels over the acts of his elders.
  20. Reviewed by: David Ansen
    The Reader can feel stilted and abstract: the film's only flesh-and-blood characters spend half the movie separated. But its emotional impact sneaks up on you. The Reader asks tough questions, and, to its credit, provides no easy answers.
  21. Provocatively intentioned, The Reader is a movie worth seeing - the kind of film you'll think about for days afterward. But when all is said and done, you're likely to wonder why the impact wasn't greater still.
  22. The film is neither about the Holocaust nor about those Germans who grappled with its legacy: it's about making the audience feel good about a historical catastrophe that grows fainter with each new tasteful interpolation.
  23. The cast is superb: especially Kate Winslet, who transcends, by far, the limits of her character's narrow soul. Yet The Reader remains schematic, and ultimately reductive.
  24. Reviewed by: Kim Newman
    The epitome of middle-brow 'quality' drama -- admirable within its limitations, but Bernard Schlink's Oprah Winfrey Book Club-approved book wasn't exactly literature, as this isn't exactly cinema.
  25. Reviewed by: Todd McCarthy
    Stephen Daldry's film is sensitively realized and dramatically absorbing, but comes across as an essentially cerebral experience without gut impact.
  26. 50
    Like many narrative filmmakers who walk on their tippy-toes when dealing with the Holocaust, neither Daldry nor Hare seems eager to make the material his own.
  27. 50
    The Reader feels weighty, all right; but it's an unsatisfying kind of weight, and Fiennes' presence, as the grown-up Michael, doesn't help much.
  28. So why, despite everyone's best efforts, does all this bigness seem so small and unfocused and simply not up to the task?
  29. A film made with high aspirations and more than the usual commitment but one that, after an arresting beginning, changes into a passive rumination.
  30. Reviewed by: Richard Schickel
    Faithful both to the novel's plot and to its higher aspirations. This is not an entirely good thing. On the other hand -- and somewhat surprisingly -- it is not an entirely bad thing.
  31. Can a formidable actress redeem a pile of solemn erotic kitsch? Kate Winslet answers that one as honestly as she can in the film version of Bernhard Schlink's 1995 novel "The Reader."
  32. 50
    After a sensuous introductory act, The Reader descends into a series of dismaying contradictions regarding the moral toxins of the Holocaust - which still pollute postwar Germany.
  33. The Reader is ponderously self-important and smugly Socratic, brimming with unfinished sentences and pregnant pauses; if a single character would only say what he thinks, the movie would be over in 30 minutes
  34. Whether the source material or Hare's tinkering is to blame for the fact that the story keeps the viewer at arm's length, the end result is still the same: A film that's technically superb, yet still falls short of true greatness.
  35. 40
    For those who think of cinema as dramatic roughage, The Reader should prove sufficiently indigestible.
  36. It appears that the filmmakers have taken Hannah Arendt's notion of the "banality of evil" way too literally.
  37. Reviewed by: Dana Stevens
    Slow-acting poison. For the first third of the movie, you'll experience a not-unpleasant tingling in the extremities, giving way to an encroaching torpor. An hour in, your pupils will have shrunk to pinholes, and by the time the closing credits roll, you'll be capable only of a dim longing for the defibrillation paddles. Who would have thought a movie about a beautiful, frequently naked female Nazi could be so dull?
  38. 10
    The shallowest "serious" film to be reeling this year.
User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 138 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 29 out of 44
  2. Negative: 6 out of 44
  1. HillaryP.
    Jan 10, 2009
    To KL before ragging on this movie for the full frontal nudity of a teenager, maybe you should do some research, the "teenager" was born To KL before ragging on this movie for the full frontal nudity of a teenager, maybe you should do some research, the "teenager" was born 7/90, making him 18 and of legal age of consent to film what ever he I urge you to judge the film on its actual content and not your uninformed opinion. This is fiction people!! Full Review »
  2. Jul 31, 2015
    This review contains spoilers, click full review link to view. The Reader dealt with the Holocaust without actually dealing with it. It took an individual experience and skated around the issues with its own, seemingly less powerful one. It had the potential to be more than a story, but instead it took the lesser way out – avoiding the true pain with the shame of a former Nazi's literacy.

    The Holocaust was so huge, but the problem facing Hanna (Kate Winslet) is so trivial in comparison. She had the opportunity to free herself from prison, yet her embarrassment kept her in. This is a storyline that was supposed to evoke emotion, yet I found myself not caring at all. I should have been conflicted, but instead I didn't care about her fate – much like the older Michael (Ralph Phiennes) didn't seem to either. There was passion and intrigue in the state of the affair, but it fizzled as soon as the lovers were separated. At times I felt like we were missing out by not seeing these events play out; we just saw the aftermath.

    Illiteracy is a real problem – one that definitely should be addressed, but perhaps not in a way that erases the struggles of those hurt in the concentration camps? Hanna seemed to prey on the prisoners the same way she preyed on Michael. Rewarding them for reading to her – albeit in much different ways. She was a predator, and in the end I didn't have any emotion towards her. I should have felt disgust, perhaps even sympathy, but it fell flat. "She never intended to leave," and I can't bring myself to care.
    Full Review »
  3. May 23, 2015
    Fascinating, philosophical, gloomy, and ambiguous drama. One can't help but admire conviction of Hanna Schmitz. Kate Winslet as Schmitz shinesFascinating, philosophical, gloomy, and ambiguous drama. One can't help but admire conviction of Hanna Schmitz. Kate Winslet as Schmitz shines and sparkles in a role that's tailor made. The movie provokes the conscience of a cine-goer, and asks profound philosophical questions. The direction is deftly handled. The handling of penultimate scenes deserve kudos. Court room scenes are a stand out. Screenplay is wonderful.
    What one could object to is the extreme graphic nature of the movie. It could have been toned down. Nonetheless, it is a must watch !
    Full Review »