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Reviews for December 10th, 2008

The Reader

Directed by Stephen Daldry.

Based on the novel by Bernhard Schlink. During post-WWII Germany, 15-year-old Michael Berg (David Kross) falls in love with Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet), an illiterate older woman whom he reads to every time they meet. Eight years later, when he becomes a law student, he witnesses Hanna defend herself and being sentenced in court for Nazi war crimes during WWII. Many years later, Michael (now played by Ralph Fiennes) tries to rekindle his relationship with Hanna once she gets out of prison. Kate Winslet delivers a truly convincing, Oscar-worthy performance as Hanna in each stage of her life. She takes a complex role and fills it with so much raw emotion that youíll feel quite moved, especially during the court room scenes in the second act. Ralph Fiennes, although a very fine actor, doesnít have as many scenes here as does David Kross, who adds some charm as the younger version of Michael. While the plot does have many dramatically intense moments, it does lose its momentum later on as it gyrates back and forth between the adult Michaelís experiences and those of him as a teenager. Also, thereís a poorly developed subplot involving the adult Michael and another character that he visits to share his memories of Hanna with. Screenwriter David Hare should have focused just on the relationship between Michael and Hanna without jumping around too much with the chronology. The film feels a bit convoluted with so much going on during Michaelís adult life. On a positive note, director Stephen Daldry includes an exquisite musical score, beautiful cinematography and terrific set/costume designs that remain authentic to the time period. The Reader ultimately manages to be a mostly absorbing and captivating drama elevated by strong performances.
Number of times I checked my watch: 2.
Released by The Weinstein Company.

Wendy and Lucy

Directed by Kelly Reichardt.

Wendy (Michelle Williams) travels to Alaska to start a new job, but gets stranded in a small Oregon town when her car breaks down. After being fingerprinted at the police station for shoplifting, she also searches for her beloved dog, Lucy, which disappeared from a supermarketís parking lot. An auto shop mechanic (Will Patton) tries his best to give her a discount so that she can afford to fix her car thatís parked right across from the shop. She also meets a security guard (Wally Dalton) who lets her use his cellphone when she wants to call the pound and helps her monetarily. Director/co-writer Kelly Reichardt sticks to a minimalist plot just like she did in Old Joy. There arenít any evil characters here; just a character experiencing two conflicts and meeting seemingly friendly, small-town people along the way. Michelle Williams delivers a raw, convincing performance, but she doesnít really have that much material to chew on and to truly stand out. Itís somewhat refreshing, though, to watch a film with such a slow pace that takes its time to introduce its few characters besides the protagonist. The small town itself becomes a character of its own thatís more interesting than any of the other characters in the film. At a running time of only 80 minutes, Wendy and Lucy doesnít have any real surprises or insights and often drags, but at least it has a few heartfelt moments that leave you feeling quietly moved.
Number of times I checked my watch: 6.
Released by Oscilloscope Pictures. Opens at the Film Forum.

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