The Reader, David Kross, Kate Winslet

Melinda Sue Gordon/ The Weinstein Co.

Review in a Hurry: Fifteen-year-old Michael Berg (David Kross) has a torrid affair with thirtysomething Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet) but then finds out she's a Nazi. You too will be seduced by Winslet, who certainly displays the Reich stuff.

The Bigger Picture: There's plenty of aging in this curious case of Michael Berg (promising, fresh-faced Kross), as he tries for decades to reconcile his relationship with a former SS guard. There's also plenty of time-jumping—hey, what do you expect from the same team that gave us The Hours? But The Reader remains riveting as long as exquisite Winslet stays on screen.

The unlikely lovers hook up in postwar Germany, and for a summer, teenaged Michael reads aloud to Hanna—everything from The Odyssey to Lady Chatterley's Lover—as a form of foreplay. Haunted and world-weary, she bares her body but never her soul, and then one day…disappears. It's only 10 years later, while a law student, that Michael learns of Hanna's Nazi past, coincidentally attending her trial for war crimes.

In the mid-1970s, Michael becomes Voldemort, er, an attorney (same thing?) played by Ralph Fiennes, who unfortunately looks little like Kross. He reaches out to Hanna, now serving a life sentence, by recording and sending her books on tape. It's a beautiful sequence, but the pacing in later scenes gets uneven, especially an unnecessary framing device involving Michael in the '90s with his adult daughter.

Wonderfully acted and gracefully directed, The Reader tackles the challenging subject of a nation's guilt by portraying it on an intimate level, its characters scarred by secrets and shame. Though Hanna herself is an enigma, Winslet allows so much to be revealed—her steeliness, vulnerability, self-loathing and longing. She makes this "monster" accessible and even sympathetic—and makes The Reader an affecting experience for the viewer.

The 180—a Second Opinion: The Holocaust has become the go-to topic for "For Your Consideration" season. The recent roster of "prestige" WWII pics—also including Valkyrie, Defiance, Good and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas—smacks of Oscar opportunism.

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