★ ★ ★
I caught this movie just after it was nominated for Best Picture a couple years ago. I can see why it was nominated only so far as it is the usual style of film that appeals to the Academy (again, period piece, historical, drama – you get the picture).
When a young man named Michael Berg (David Kross) falls ill, he is taken in by an older woman to recoup, Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet). On return to thank her for her kindness, the two strike up a romantic relationship despite their age difference. Michael continues visiting and, in addition to their romantic endeavors, reads to her from various classic novels. One day she disappears and Michael can’t find her anywhere. Eight years later, he runs into her again while a law student analyzing a criminal trial. Hanna is one of the women on trial where she is alleged to have been a female guard at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Without spoiling what happens next, the decision of the trial and occurrences after deeply impact both of their lives. The older Michael Berg is played by Ralph Fiennes.
The story is structured around three distinct narratives: the early relationship when Michael is a boy, his time as a law student eight years later and, finally, him as a grown man. The narrative weaves between all three distinct parts of his life. Though, in premise, the story sounds entertaining, the film as a whole really is a rather bland effort. The cinematography by Roger Deakins and Chris Menges is outstanding, but other than that, the direction by Stephen Daldry, pacing, acting and story flow all just seem rather boring and cliched.
It’s not a bad film, but how it managed five Academy Award nominations blows my mind. Kate Winslet won a much deserved career Oscar for this film, but in my opinion, she should have won it for the much better film and performance from this same year, Revolutionary Road.