After the recent Golden Globes, I'm sure many were scratching their heads why Kate Winslet was put up for a Supporting Actress award, because if she's not the lead actress in The Reader, then I don't know who is.
Based on the book by Bernhard Schlink and adapted for the screen by David Hare, The Reader tells of the sexual relationship between a boy and his older lover during a summer in post WWII Germany that had been kept under wraps, and the aftermath of that relationship after some trying circumstances involving sudden departures, unexpected reunions, and worse of all, denial because of confusion in wanting to do what's right.
Directed by Stephen Daldry, The Reader tells the story of Michael Berg (played by David Kross and Ralph Fiennes as the older man) and his sexual awakening under the tutelage of Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet with an accent), a tram conductor whom he met one day when he was sick. Soon after he's back at her place more frequently like a horny schoolkid given a head start in sex education, who thought that his reading to her the classics of works from Charles Dickens to D.H. Lawrence was kinky foreplay. Rated R21 for full frontal nudity (male included) and what have yous, but it's all quite tastefully done without the need to gratuitously exploit the scenes.
The first half dealt more with the physical nature of Michael and Hanna's relationship which slowly transforms to an emotional one, albeit peppered with issues because of their obvious age gap, and for her, in being a cradle snatcher. We know little of her past as well, which will be revealed in due course, but so long as it's not made known to her lover, their tiffs (as with all couples) become more pronounced and reconciliation becoming more difficult as well. She disappears one day, leaving Michael heartbroken, and it's not until much later during a trial that he finally learns more of her. Not an ideal situation of course, as it presents a chock load of questions to which there are no clear answers.
Kate Winslet deserves her awards thus far for her portrayal of a woman hiding what she deems as a shameful secret, and it's not about her romance with Michael at that. She gives her Hanna an air of innocence despite the severe crime against humanity in which she was implicated, all because to her it was a job, and has to be done right, and duties discharged professionally. Winslet brings through her exasperation really well, and slowly we see her steely resolve and innovation in correcting her deficiency. The make up department also deserve credit for their work on her, and adds an extra dimension to her performance.
Ralph Fiennes on the other hand has limited screen time here as the older Michael Berg, but managed to add gravitas by linking both past and present together. His role is to carry the sense of guilt over, as well as to seek some redemption and forgiveness of his past. His short scene opposite Lena Olin wrapped that up quite nicely. David Kross naturally steals the show as the protagonist, who in his youthful exuberance and defiance at first deemed his relationship under wraps to be perfectly novel, until like Adam's biting of the forbidden fruit, he finds himself surrounded by controversy that he's unable to handle, and a tinge of shame that his promising future will be on the rocks should his illicit affair be made known.
Kross had shown this change of attitude perfectly. From that innocence of a wide eyed boy toward getting to the candy shop every day, preferring to forgo hanging out with his immature peers for the arms of a mature woman, to discovering that growing up also meant change, and wistfully wanting to be back with his peers. He doesn't know whether to do the right thing, or weighing the consequences, prefer to keep mum, deny, and let another go through persecution alone. His failure to understand and grasp his reading to Hannah, and worse, that act being associated in what was deemed to be a heinous crime, seemed to all condemn his silence even further. While Ralph Fiennes had that excellent scene opposite Lena Olin, here David Kross has plenty opposite Bruno Ganz who plays his law lecturer.
You know that Oscar season is here when movies like these start to make a beeline for release dates from now until February. The Reader is recommended for its well thought story, as well as its wonderful cast to bring to life a tale of romance, guilt and redemption.