The Reader is a pretty good screen adaptation of a very good, semiautobiographical novel about guilt and reconciliation among a German generation that came of age after the rise and fall of Nazism. The film is notable for its nice performances, its handsome photography, and its very active music. If the preceding praise sounds generic, so is the movie: Everything is admirable, worthy, and muffled in a blanket of Britishness in this well-bred production, which reunites director Stephen Daldry with screenwriter David Hare six years after The Hours. But nothing pierces, shocks, or challenges with an originality that meets the source material even halfway.
Certainly the story, by Bernhard Schlink, is a grabber (millions in Oprah's Book Club have already grabbed it). Michael (fresh-faced newcomer David Kross), a teenage boy in postwar Germany, tumbles into a secretive affair with Hanna (Kate Winslet), a passionate older woman. The liaison is hot with sex, during which Winslet once again demonstrates her endearing talent for being honest while naked; as foreplay, Michael reads great books to his literature-hungry lover. Then Hanna vanishes and when Michael sees her next, he's a law student observing a courtroom where she's on trial for crimes committed in Hitler's name.
Ralph Fiennes has perhaps the toughest job, playing the morose adult Michael a version, we can assume, of the author. Fiennes masters the default demeanor of someone perpetually pained. The Reader, similarly, represents a received notion of a significant movie with a Holocaust theme. B–