An odd one this. It’s based on a book that examined German war guilt and it tries to pose questions about motivations and examines why people acted in the way that they did.
It’s a good setup but it’s let down by a clunky script. The performances range from excellent (Fiennes, Winslet and a squint or you’ll miss him Bruno Ganz) to mixed (Michael is more comfortable as college student than gangly teenager). Winslet and Kross deserve special awards for services towards full-frontal nudity.
It starts in the fifties with a teenage Michael having a chance meeting with Hannah, who is considerably older than him. The brief encounter quickly turns into something more physical until it is abruptly ended. Eight years later, Michael sees Hannah in the defendant box at a war crimes trial. He is in possession of information that could save her from prison but he has a choice to make and this is the driving theme of the film. What choices did people make and why? Did they in fact have any choice at all?
Some scenes are especially effective, such as when Michael visits a death camp himself but the ending is mawkish in the extreme.
There has been a trend of late to make holocaust films that don’t directly deal with the holocaust itself (as Schindler’s List does for instance) and The Reader is very ambitious but it ultimately falls short of the mark set by The Counterfeiters. This would have been better made entirely with German actors in their native language because good and all that Winslet and Fiennes are, the film lacks a certain authenticity.