**1/2 out of ****
The Reader is a good film, but I just can't work up a lot of enthusiasm for it. It features wonderful performances from the goddess Kate Winslet and the newcomer David Kross. However, the story is very strange and the film goes on too long.
David Kross is 15-year-old Michael Berg, living in Germany in the late 50s. One day, while walking home during a downpour, he becomes very sick and a strange woman comes to his aid. Turns out, it's Kate Winslet with a German accent. She walks him home, and he is bedridden for months. When he gets better, he finds the woman-whose name is Hanna Schmitz-and is surprised to find himself drawn to her, a woman over twice his age. He develops a crush, and being the teenage boy that he is, starts following her around until she decides to sleep with him. Their relationship takes off from there, every day Michael coming to her apartment and reading to her from various books before having lots of sex, which Hanna insists on. During the few months they are together, he reads to her The Odyssey, Huck Finn, The Lady With a Little Dog, and Lady Chatterley's Lover. The relationship falters when Michael starts becoming attracted to girls his own age, but soon Hanna moves away without any explanation, leaving Michael heartbroken.
Fast forward eight years, Michael is a law student in a special seminar. His teacher takes his class to watch a war crimes trial uncovering newly discovered facts about the Holocaust. In a shocking turn, Hanna is one of the defendants on trial for murder. Michael watches her intently as she admits to being a Nazi guard working at one of the prison camps, but never makes his prescence known to her. The film is said to be about the Holocaust, but this is not the case. Those events are never seen and only ever discussed. Those scenes are some of the most poignant in the film and one wishes the rest of the film was more like them. She is declared guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
From there, the story jumps forward again, showing Ralph Fiennes as a grown-up Michael, and Winslet in heavy makeup growing older and older. Giving anything away after this point would be spoiling, which I am firmly against, but the story goes on, much longer than it needs to. Kross is a wonderful actor and his character Michael wears his emotions on his sleeve, so the audience can see the suffering on his face. Fiennes, however, plays him much more restrained and mature, and therefore, is a much less interesting force in the story. Once Kross' scenes stop and Fiennes' start, the audience starts caring less. Because of this, the film drags on and suffers badly from overlength, despite that it is barely longer than two hours.
Winslet is one of the bravest actresses in the business, and gets completely naked in several scenes in the movie, which distracts from the story when it should add to the drama. It definitely shows that their relationship is purely sexual in nature, and therefore not really love. Winslet is known for getting naked for a lot of her performances; in my opinion, she should pick and choose those nude moments carefully, as they often define an actress' career. This film had a lot of sex and nudity, much of which was not needed to tell the story. Winslet maybe should have chosen to cover up, but that doesn't diminish from the emotional power of her performance.
I would recommend The Reader to mature audiences that like quiet dramas and romances. Everyone else would probably be bored.
You can watch the trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kifRQG_M-Do