Monday, April 27, 2009

Kate Winslet, in The Reader

approximately 38 minutes and 10 seconds
33.2% of the film

The Film

Post-WWII Germany: Nearly a decade after his affair with an older woman came to a mysterious end, law student Michael Berg re-encounters his former lover as she defends herself in a war-crime trial.
You can read my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

The film doesn’t live up to the greatness and storytelling of the book. It’s never good to compare, I know, but it’s a sin to waste such good material. As you’ll read by clicking there, my biggest problem was the 1st part.

Kate Winslet as Hanna Schmitz

Just like Angelina’s performance, this one is also a mixed bag. Among moments of greatness, you can easily find poor choices made by Kate (she’s usually excellent all the way, so I blame the writing and maybe sometimes even the director for misguiding her). Hanna Schmitz is one of the most compelling Nazis you’ll ever see; this simple fact makes it a tricky role to play. And, as I’ve said: some good, some bad, with a final result somewhere in the middle of it all.

Hanna Schmitz is meant to be rigid, tough, unforgiving, BUT (what the screenwriter didn’t get) also smart-ass, a bit mean, playful sometimes, with a superiority complex in a dominatrix way :D And how is Kate for the first part of the film? Too stiff and with a pointless, uncalled for, attempt of a German accent; which she looses anyway halfway through the film.

First impression counts, and by that I mean first 5 minutes of a performance. If you’ve started on the wrong foot, it’s hard/harder for me to fall in love with you later into the film. Though some might say she is building the performance going from here to there, I wouldn’t consider that an excuse even if it would be true. The thing about Hanna Schmitz is that she doesn’t change (one might argue that justifying with the facts that she learns how to read; but you can see in her final scene with Michael that she’s the same Hanna in an old woman’s body). What does strike as a change in Kate’s performance is her going from a somewhat lack of imagination to trying to express something once the trial scenes start.

Kate’s take on Hanna-the-mysterious-woman from the first part is mostly dull, unimaginative and well… boring. One exception: when Michael is reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover to her and she acts like that’s a dirty shameful book – I loved how Kate handled the hypocrisy of Hanna.

The second part, with the trial, is much better and Kate gets the chance to stand out. And she does it: the simplicity of Hanna, her brutal honesty and later her surrender to whatever they decide for her – all these elements that Kate masterfully offers us create such a compelling character that we understand and… the truth is I felt sorry for her and she broke my heart. Everything is built so that for entire moments in the film you somewhat forget the atrocities and just feel for this woman. Her “suicidal” telling of the truth shows us the innocence (if I can call it that) of Hanna the woman, not the guard.

The third part is the most teasing and most uplifting (up to a point). I would say the final scene between old Hanna and Michael is probably the only well-written scene in the film. Kate is excellent here, balancing the flirting mood (yes, you can feel it; in so many ways, she’s still dominating Michael and Kate does great work showing that), the irritation when asked about the past and also the innocent joy when seeing a familiar face after all those years. The dead are still dead, Hanna says; it doesn’t matter what I think. I love it that you can see both the human and the Nazi guard.

Just as the story it's continuing it's course, Kate goes from mediocre or just ok to believable, expressive, dramatic and in control. Yes, in control – that’s her best achievement. And as Kate becomes more comfortable playing Hanna, we start to get it and feel for her. And, no, you can’t justify all with the story, it’s not Kate’s big strategy of approaching the role; it’s a breach between her and Hanna-the-lover. And that kills a part of the performance. I give her , but this IS a performance to reflect upon again and again in the years to come.

***EDIT: As stated at the 100th profile celebration (HERE), Kate's performance has been upgraded to  . ;)

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