| Much like last year’s “Atonement,” this is a fictitious tale with two distinctly different halves.
A chance encounter in 1958 between Michael Berg (David Kross), a 15-year-old West German boy, and Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet), an uneducated, 35-year-old streetcar ticket taker, becomes a forbidden “Summer of ‘42” romance.
Hanna sets the rules of their affair. She insists as foreplay before lovemaking that Michael read to her from Homer (“The Odyssey”), Mark Twain (“Huck Finn”) and Anton Chekhov (“The Lady with the Dog”).
Eight years later, their paths cross again. Michael is a very serious student at Heidelberg Law School. He is taking a seminar on the morality of German guilt for the Holocaust. His professor (Bruno Ganz who ironically played Adolf Hitler in “The Downfall”) takes the class on a field trip to observe war crime trials. Michael is shocked to find Hanna as a defendant in the courtroom.
As her past as a prison guard at Auschwitz is revealed, Michael faces a moral quandary about revealing a secret that could reduce her sentence. This is a thought-provoking contemplative piece that examines guilt, responsibility and retribution.
The tender and genuine intimacy of the love story gives the film its strongest moments. The second half takes a slower literary approach with less pizazz.
Ralph Fiennes plays the older version of Michael. Lena Olin plays a dual role of a Jewish mother and daughter. Kross makes an impressive feature film debut. Winslet dominates the movie with a masterful performance. She bares all and deserves awards recognition.
The adapted screenplay by David Hare (“The Hours”), based on the best-selling novel by Bernhard Schlink, and the astute direction by Stephen Daldry (“The Hours” and “Billy Elliot”) are worthy of Oscar consideration.
This movie invites you to unlock the mystery. Would you be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect a secret?
Now playing at AMC Studio 30, Leawood and Palazzo in KC.
Keith Cohen, "The Movie Guy"