Yet another movie about good little Nazis, The Reader at least wrestles with the notion of Germany's guilt and responsibility for its war atrocities. Based on Bernhard Schlink's novel, it's a strange little movie - sort of Summer of '42 meets She Wolves of the SS. It's about a 15-year-old kid (David Kross) who has an affair with a woman over twice his age (Kate Winslet), only to discover, several years later, that she'd been a guard at Auschwitz. Should he feel guilty? Responsible?
We never really get a bead on Winslet's Hanna Schmitz; she's an enigma. But she's also incredibly erotic, in an emotionally needy, yet standoffish, kind of way. And Kross' Michael Berg can't believe his luck. Hanna bathes him, towels him off, then straddles him, but first she likes to be read to from the great works of literature, War and Peace all the way down to Tin Tin comics. Theirs is a relationship that wouldn't make a lick of sense were it not for the remarkable performances of Winslet, who manages to keep her soul exposed while closing down her heart, and Kross, who captures all the nuances of a boy quickly turning into a man.
Ralph Fiennes takes over as the middle-aged Berg, a lawyer who lost track of Hanna when she mysteriously left town, then discovered her again at her war-crimes trial. Hanna, it turns out, has a deep, dark secret that the movie and the novel seem to think is even deeper and darker than sending Jews to their deaths. Can't say I agree with that one, but it all works on the metaphorical plane, in which Germany's so-called Second Generation (those born after the war) tries to understand how its cultivated elders could systematically wipe out an entire race. Directed by Stephen Daldry from a script by David Hare (they did The Hours together), The Reader doesn't quite add up in the end, but what's there is beautifully rendered.