A young German man (an award-worthy David Kross) has an affair with an older woman (Kate Winslet), only to discover many years after the affair ends that she was a guard at the Auschwitz concentration camp. After she is found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison, the man (later played by Ralph Fiennes) still can’t get her out of his mind. The Reader is an emotionally complicated movie that kept me engaged through the many decades it spans in these characters’ lives. Winslet took home the best actress Oscar for her performance, and a remarkable one it is. Her behavior is so mysterious throughout half the film, and once her past is revealed, it begins to make sense when you play scenes back in your head.
David Kross is actually the leading actor here, though. And he’s capable of holding his own against the seasoned Winslet, portraying a man in love for the first time with all the giddiness and heartache that ensues. He’s even more compelling later in the film, when without any words at all, he must reconcile his fond memories of that first love with the new-found knowledge of his lover’s Nazi past. Fiennes is reliably good as the older version of Kross’s character, but Lena Olin easily upstages him in dual roles. She plays a concentration camp survivor who testifies against Winslet’s character, and later in the film she also appears as that woman’s daughter. It’s her performance as the daughter, to whom Fiennes goes for absolution, that will stick in your memory. Directed by Stephen Daldry (The Hours, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close).
Academy Award: Best Actress (Winslet)
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography