The Reader (Stephen Daldry, 2008): USA / Germany

Reviewed by Byron Potau.  Viewed at The Riviera Theatre, Santa Barbara, Ca.

Reader, TheWhen you are not quite sure what to expect it’s that much more satisfying to find a gem like Stephen Daldry’s The Reader.  While not riding a wave of buzz like other films this holiday season, this film has edged its way into the conversation of the top films of the year.

In post World War II Germany fifteen year old Michael Berg (David Kross) begins an illicit affair with a much the much older Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet) who assisted him when he fell ill.  The affair ends abruptly and Michael does not see Hanna again until years later as a law student when he happens to be witnessing an actual trial of which she is one of the defendants for war crimes committed when she was a guard at one of the concentration camps.  Torn by his disgust with her crimes, his affection for her, and a moral obligation to divulge information she has purposely withheld, but that would help her in her defense.

Daldry chooses to be uninhibited with the sex scenes between Michael and Hanna and the result is one of the most erotic films in several years.  This is in no small part to the solid performance of Kate Winslet, but newcomer David Kross cannot be overlooked.  He is exceptional in a difficult role as the younger Michael.  Naïve and inexperienced, lustful and confused, his performance is one to behold and he has been sadly overlooked this awards season, as has Ralph Fiennes as the older, more mature, but still vulnerable Michael.  However, this film deals with much more than just an affair and Daldry and writer David Hare are able to successfully treat some sensitive material.  With all the critical success this film has had so far it still seems to be flying under the radar.  You may have to seek this one out, but it will definitely be worth your while.

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