Well written, well acted and executed with clarity and finesse, THE READER, based on the short novel by Bernard Schlink, is a solid piece of filmmaking that unfortunately suffers from being just that: a solid piece of filmmaking. It's a Volvo: solid, reliable, and gets you where you want to go, but not the type of ride you bring out to the weekend car show at the local Denny's.
Michael Berg is 15 when he meets Hanna, a much older woman who collects fares on the train in late 1950's Germany. Drawn together in a passionate affair for the summer, their lovemaking is intermingled with longer and longer bouts of Michael reading to Hanna. Why Hanna initiates this is uncertain, but as the summer unfolds it becomes apparent that the affair awakens yearnings and passions in both of them. The affair ends inexplicably, and Michael returns to his life, attending University and majoring in law. Now in his 20's, he crosses paths with Hanna again, this time as he observes a trial against a group of women accused of war crimes in WWII. Hanna is one of the accused, a Nazi prison guard at Auschwitz.
Director Stephen Daldry and screenwriter David Hare do a good job of moving the story along, jumping back and forth in time and using the adult Michael's (played by Ralph Fiennes) visit by his daughter as a framing device. Kate Winslet give another in a string of strong performances, having to both play across a number of years and garner the audience's support despite her crimes. But the standout performance is by David Kross as the young Michael Berg who, at 18, displays a masterful command of his emotions and abilities. Everything comes together just as it should, but besides Kross' performance THE READER refuses to stand out as anything other than a solid, strong film, which should be more than enough but, somehow, isn't.