Thursday, April 16, 2009

DVD review: "The Reader"

Judging by box office receipts, "The Reader" was the Best Picture Oscar nominee that most people missed.

They'll get a chance to make amends when one of the best films of 2008 hits video this week. The erotic drama, which won Kate Winslet her first golden statue, is the tale of a 15-year-old German boy, Michael, who has an affair with Hanna, a woman two decades older during the late 1950s. Years later, he learns a terrible secret about her past that he chooses not to reveal, an act of omission that has a devastating impact on both their lives.

Directed by Stephen Daldry from a screenplay by David Hare (the same team behind "The Hours"), "The Reader" isn't a typical Holocaust movie. Rather, it explores how people live in the shadow of tragedy, and how guilt can be passed down from generation to generation.

There's no commentary track with the DVD, although the views of Daldry, Hare, Winslet and co-stars Ralph Fiennes and David Kross are well-represented in a healthy set of extra features.

There's a making-of documentary in which all of them speak at length, and an interview between Daldry and Kross (in which the 18-year-old actor expresses worry about his grandparents seeing him appear fully nude in the film). A look at how Winslet was aged 30 years via makeup is unexpectedly entertaining, including a bit where she goofs around with a fake breast. Also included are short looks at composer Nico Mulhy and production designer Brigitte Broch.

Finally, there's a substantial collection of 11 deleted scenes. Unlike most such excised material, which tends to be short and inconsequential, the extras include both longer versions of existing scenes and entirely new ones. All told, it represents more than 42 minutes worth of material never seen before. These include a clandestine visit by Hanna to Michael's house, an encounter with a truck driver with a past, and a much longer sequence of young Michael reading books to her, where their roles of tutor and pupil are reversed.

Movie: 4 stars
Extras: 3 stars

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