Monday, January 05, 2009

The Reader

Tonight I saw The Reader, starring Kate Winslet and David Kross.

Based on the bestselling book by Bernard Schlink, the story begins in Germany when Michael (Kross) falls ill on the way home from high school and is found by Hanna (Winslet), an older woman who works on the local trains. She cleans him up and helps him to his home—a random act of kindness not soon forgotten by the boy, who returns three months later when he recovers to offer her flowers in gratitude.

One thing leads to another and the two become passionate lovers. However, it's not just an affair based on sex; it's a meaningful relationship filled with endless lovemaking that's precluded by the young man reading to his partner. Hence, the title.

Before I go any further, I'm in agreement that seeing a film where a woman in her mid-thirties teaches a teenage boy how to make love may seem embarrassing, but let me reassure you that the scenes between Winslet and Kross are incredibly tender, yet sensual, and do the original book every justice (note: I read it years ago and loved it, so I was prepared to be let down by the film). In fact, watching them act so convincingly makes you want to grab a lover and re-invent foreplay with a couple of classic novels. But I digress...

The lovers part before the boy becomes a man and he doesn't encounter Hanna again until he is a law student several years later, sitting in on a Nazi crime trial in which she is a defendant. It seems she was once an Auschwitz prison guard.

From there, the film is a collection of spoilers so I will tell the story no further, but I have to say that if this isn't the year Winslet takes home the Oscar, for this role, there is a conspiracy brewing in the Academy.

She is beyond phenomenal as a tough, yet tender woman following suit in life, making bad decisions she knows are wrong in her heart but is not wise enough to correct. The amount of acting Winslet does in her expressions would allow one to turn off the sound and still feel the gravity of the emotion in the film. I've liked her in every role I've seen her in, but I don't know that she's ever been this good.

Also wonderful is the young David Kross (so young in reality, they had to wait for his 18th birthday to shoot his graphic sex scenes with Winslet), who shows the right balance of innocence and pain as their lives unfold.

Finally, I never thought I'd envision the man who played the most convincingly horrific Nazi 14 years ago, turn the tides and be just as authentic as a citizen shocked by the brutality of the Holocaust. Bravo, Mr. Fiennes.

I can't think of many ways this story could've been told better—and that's why for me it ranks as one of the best films of 2008.

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