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Do you really need to see another movie about German guilt?

Reviews in Brief: The Reader

Who? Kate Winslet, David Kross, and Ralph Fiennes star. Stephen Daldry directs from David Hare's screenplay, based on Bernhard Schlink's book.

What? Winslet plays Hanna, a 30-something railway ticket-taker who seduces schoolboy Michael (Kross) after finding him ill in an alley in post-war Germany. The two carry on a clandestine affair that consists primarily of sex punctuated by Michael reading to Hanna. Hanna abruptly breaks off the relationship by moving out of her flat without a word to Michael. Some years later, Michael, now a law student, attends a war crimes trial with his class only to find that Hanna is standing accused of murder, having been a guard at Auschwitz.

Michael comes to realize something about Hanna during the trial that he hadn't noticed during the time of their liaison. He makes a choice not to share this information even though it might mitigate her sentencing. The ramifications of this act reverberate through the adult Michael's (played by Ralph Fiennes) life as he attempts to make amends.

Switching back and forth between the timelines of adult Michael and young Michael, Daldry manages to make the scenes between Hanna and the schoolboy less cringe-inducing than they might otherwise have been, but doesn't make Michael's adult life compelling. The story ends perhaps the only way it can, but fails to make a point.

Worth It?
Do you really need to see another movie about German guilt? The message is muddled unless we're meant to equate Michael's wrongdoing with Hanna's, which most viewers will be incapable of doing. While the performances are all good (Winslet won most of the major acting awards), it's David Kross as the young Michael who's the standout. Rent it if you must.

About Lisa McKay

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