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Monday, Dec. 29, 2008

Reading Out Loud

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Immaculately composed and lit like a series of moving paintings, The Reader is a coming-of-age story, a twilight reflection on the past and an unusual meditation on German Holocaust guilt. Based on Bernhard Schlink's novel, The Reader reunites director Stephen Daldry and writer David Hare, whose previous collaboration, The Hours, was also a high-toned immersion into melancholy and loss.

The Readerconcerns a 16-year-old boy in 1950s Germany, Michael, whose first love is for an older woman, Hannah (Kate Winslet). Brusque and hard-edged, Hannah comes alive in the arms of her apprentice lover, especially when he reads to her by way of foreplay. Whether hearing Homer, Huck Finn or a comic book, Hannah's eyes light with desire at the sound of the written word. But Hannah has a past that Michael discovers years after they drift apart: She was an SS death camp guard. And concealed within that secret is another secret, whose revelation explains and excuses nothing.

Winslet's irrepressible radiance brightens her dour character, breaking through Hannah's gray facade like sunbeams through an overcast sky. Ralph Fiennes plays the adult Michael with a suitably morose reticence. But the thoughts and emotions of Michael and Hannah were probably explored better in the novel than the film adaptation.