The Reader delicately traverses the tricky emotional landscape of a controversial tale and offers a fresh perspective on Nazi atrocities.
Based on the award-winning book by Bernhard Schlink, The Reader is an extraordinary, provocative and controversial story set in post-World War II Germany. It starts when 15-year-old Michael (David Kross) becomes ill with scarlet fever and is helped home by sympathetic woman named Hanna (Kate Winslet). After his recovery, he returns to thank her and is drawn into a clandestine affair with this intriguing woman more than twice his age. Their relationship grows stronger, especially when he starts reading to her. But then she suddenly disappears, leaving a devastated Michael, who now must move on with his life. Little does he know that eight years later, while he is in law school, he would see Hanna again -- as one of the defendants in a court case against Nazi war criminals. Shocked at revelations about her secret past, he also discovers something that will change both their lives forever.
Granted, Kate Winslet is one of the finest young screen actresses, but her range in The Reader will astonish you. It's an extremely tricky part that could easily lose the audience's sympathy if done incorrectly, but Winslet handles it with aplomb. She runs through the whole gamut of emotions -- aging from her 30s to 60s -- all at once sexy, mysterious, conflicted, contrite as well as many other colors. As Michael, newcomer Kross is devastatingly good, the most impressive acting discovery in a long time. Although he plays 15, he was 17 at the start of filming and production had to shut down until he turned 18 for the graphic sex scenes. As the story flashes forward, Ralph Fiennes takes over the role as the older Michael and does so with a touching sincerity. Lena Olin also has a strong cameo as a Holocaust survivor with definite opinions of Hanna.
Although this is only acclaimed stage director Stephen Daldry's third film, he once again he shows a mastery of the medium far beyond his limited cinematic resume. Like The Hours and his debut film Billy Elliot, he has crafted another film to savor. The Reader isn't necessarily the most comfortable film to watch, but Daldry guides the subject matter with a delicate and steady hand, giving us a complex and touching love story between the most unlikely couple. It also delves into how one generation of Germans can come to terms with the horrors of another. Daldry's directorial restraint and power perfectly serves David Hare's impressive screenplay and delivers a memorable movie-going experience.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 1/2 stars.