Here’s the anti-Benjamin Button. The Reader follows two people through the majority of their lives, discovering each other, uncovering mysteries, and ultimately discovering themselves.
Teenager Michael (David Kross) meets the icy-cold Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet) by accident in post-WWII Germany. Their initial chance encounter leads to a few more until they start a passionate summer romance. Hanna is much older and much more domineering, she bosses Michael around as if she’s his mother, then invites him regularly to the bedroom. The two quickly develop a routine of Michael reading to Hanna, then engaging in passionate sex. The affair is kept a secret and then, she’s gone.
Years later we find Michael in law school where he has yet another chance encounter with Hanna, but this time, the stakes are far more serious.
I won’t divulge any more story except to say that the film cuts back and forth from Michael as a college student, to his life as an adult, where he is played with reliable intensity by Ralph Fiennes.
The Reader is often moving and sometimes shocking. Director Stehpen Daldry (The Hours) and writer David Hare do a great job adapting Bernhard Schlink’s semi-autobiographical book. Michael is the center of the story, but Hanna is who we find ourselves wanting more of. She is accused of some remarkably devious acts, yet we want to follow her.
Kate Winslet affirms her role as the very best actress of her generation. At 33 years old, she’s been nominated five times for an Oscar, expect that number to rise to seven after this performance as well as her turn in Revolutionary Road. If there’s a role that deserves her an over-due win, then it’s this one. Better than Brad Pitt in Benjamin Button, Winslet inhabits her aging in The Reader with great emotional balance. I believed every single movement of her performance, it’s quite a sight to see.
Fiennes is an actor of impeccable range, you’ll be hard-pressed to think of an actor that can deliver more emotion, simply by reading into a tape recorder.
My one problem with the film (a very small problem) is that I found myself trying to calculate the ages of the characters in my head too many times. At first I wanted to know how far apart in age they were, then how old they were when we jump ahead, and so on. Not a grand issue, but us mathematically deficient people could’ve used a line of dialogue stating their age gap.
Regardless, The Reader is a quiet, little film that stirs echoes in your mind long after you leave. You won’t regret it. A-