In a film set in postwar Germany, Kate Winslett bares her soul--and a lot more--in her Oscar winning performance as Hanna Schmitz, an ex-nazi concentration camp guard whose past comes back to bite her on the butt--which, by the way, is quite comely. Trying to do great acting with one's clothes off must just add to the pressure, and I think the academy voters must have recognized this. Either that or most of them were guys.
Hanna, a decidedly amoral character--not only for what she did at the camps but for her rationalizations about it much later--is in her mid thirties when she has an affair with 15 year old Michael Berg, a future law student who serendipitously becomes an observer when she later goes on trial for her past deeds. Michael has secret information that could make things go better for her, but will he reveal it to the judge? That's what you pay your inflated admission and popcorn prices to find out, buckaroo!
Lena Olin, a fine, underrated and underemployed actress who could carry a lot of films herself, has a small part near the end. And the late Sydney Pollack--a truly great, and, I think, underrated director, has his stamp on this one as co-producer.
The theme of The Reader is one that each of us has lived at some time or another: The conflict within ourselves to act out of conscience or out of fear.