The Reader
dir Stephen Daldry
scr David Hare
with Kate Winslet, David Kross, Ralph Fiennes, Bruno Ganz, Lena Olin, Alexandra Maria Lara, Karoline Herfurth, Max Mauff, Vijessna Ferkic, Hannah Herzsprung, Jürgen Tarrach, Linda Bassett
release US 10.Dec.08, UK 2.Jan.09
08/UK Weinstein 2h03

The Reader
Bedtime stories: Winslet and Kross

fiennes ganz olin
Berlin film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Reader An intelligent approach sets this intense drama apart from the crowd, recounting a morally complex story without telling us how to think. The result is a riveting and haunting film that's not actually about the Holocaust.

In 1995 Berlin, lawyer Michael Berg (Fiennes) finds his past coming back to haunt him. Back in 1958, as a 15-year-old (Kross), he had a summertime fling with the enigmatic 36-year-old Hanna (Winslet), to whom he reads a range of books. And eight years later, as a law student during the Nazi trials, he encounters her again as she is charged with war crimes over her behaviour as an Auschwitz guard. When she chooses an implication of guilt rather than revealing her illiteracy, Michael must make a tough decision.

This reunion between Hare and Daldry has a similar tone to The Hours, as it jumps around the timeframes, offering key details and hinting at other things. But what makes the film gripping is the way the script never over-explains anything, allowing us to think what we might do in situations that are this charged with the momentum of history and responsibility. As the film is set in a nation grappling with its collective guilt, the truths in the story resonate vividly through events like Vietnam and the War on Terror.

Daldry uses crisp camerawork by Chris Menges and Roger Deakins and an expertly designed production that catches the various periods without being fussy about it. He beautifully portrays the awkward tenderness between Hanna and Michael as both sensuous and childish. Then as the film shifts to the trial, there's a strikingly provocative examination of the collision between morality and the law, forcing us to make our own judgements on the characters' actions. Key questions are about what we want from our justice system and whether we ever have the right to moral superiority.

With one of her most interesting characters to date, Winslet delivers a remarkably consistent, moving performance that brings Hanna through the decades as a woman who is constantly hiding her soul, even as we glimpse her quiet yearning. Her scenes with the excellent Kross are especially engaging, most notably when Hanna and Michael are at odds with each other. And Fiennes quietly conveys Michael's accumulated regret. Like the filmmaking, the acting strikes a mature and thoughtful tone that refreshingly leaves us to do the heavy lifting.

cert 15 themes, sexuality 5.Dec.08

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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall