Metascore
58

Mixed or average reviews - based on 38 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 19 out of 38
  2. Negative: 2 out of 38
  1. Reviewed by: Jenni Miller
    100
    Winslet deserves an Oscar for her amazing performance.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  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
    Winslet's fierce, unerring portrayal goes beyond acting, becoming a provocation that will keep you up nights.
  7. 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.
  8. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    75
    Though the effort is uneven, it's a well-acted romance that becomes a less compelling courtroom drama.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  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. Fiennes brings to the role a shimmering subtlety.
  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
    Bernhard Schlink's highly regarded novel "The Reader" receives a graceful, absorbing screen adaptation by director Stephen Daldry.
  16. 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.
  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
    The Reader doesn't do enough to explore the guilt and betrayal the adult Michael feels over the acts of his elders.
  19. 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."
  20. 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.
  21. Reviewed by: Kim Newman
    60
    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.
  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. Reviewed by: David Ansen
    60
    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.
  24. 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.
  25. 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."
  26. A film made with high aspirations and more than the usual commitment but one that, after an arresting beginning, changes into a passive rumination.
  27. Reviewed by: Jason Buchanan
    50
    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.
  28. 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.
  29. So why, despite everyone's best efforts, does all this bigness seem so small and unfocused and simply not up to the task?
  30. 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
  31. 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.
  32. Reviewed by: Ella Taylor
    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.
  33. Reviewed by: Richard Schickel
    50
    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.
  34. Reviewed by: Todd McCarthy
    50
    Stephen Daldry's film is sensitively realized and dramatically absorbing, but comes across as an essentially cerebral experience without gut impact.
  35. It appears that the filmmakers have taken Hannah Arendt's notion of the "banality of evil" way too literally.
  36. 40
    For those who think of cinema as dramatic roughage, The Reader should prove sufficiently indigestible.
  37. Reviewed by: Dana Stevens
    20
    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. Reviewed by: Matthew Sorrento
    10
    The shallowest "serious" film to be reeling this year.
User Score
7.2

Generally favorable reviews- based on 129 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 33 out of 42
  2. Negative: 5 out of 42
  1. HillaryP.
    Jan 10, 2009
    10
    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 wants...so I urge you to judge the film on its actual content and not your uninformed opinion. This is fiction people!! Full Review »
  2. Sep 3, 2014
    8
    Kate Winslet's portrayal of Hanna in The Reader is her finest performance to date. It's rare that one actress has her two greatest roles in a single year. Oh, and the film with break every inch of your heart--it may appear tender at times, but this film is an emotional punch. Full Review »
  3. Jul 30, 2014
    6
    A defining performance by Kate Winslet. The film has a powerful story behind, but it does not handle it accordingly. "The Reader" seems eager to have its lead actress win the Oscar, but a bit uninterested in leaving its mark on film history. Full Review »