Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on June 2009
Michael, a callow 15-year-old (David Kross) in 1958 Germany, falls into a sexual affair with an older woman (Kate Winslet), a reclusive streetcar conductor. Their physical passion takes on more personal tones when, at her request, he reads to her from a variety of books he likes. Then she disappears. Cut to 1966. Michael, now a law student, is shocked to learn during a class visit to a war crimes trial in Berlin that one of the defendants is his old paramour, being tried for her part in the murder of 300 Jews while serving as an SS guard at Auschwitz. As he follows the trial, Michael realizes (at about the same time as the audience) that he is in possession of information that could mitigate her charges. Should he protect the woman he loved, or avoid embarrassment and do nothing? The film is bookended by scenes from 1995 in which Ralph Fiennes plays an emotionally scarred adult Michael. Directed by Steven Daldry (The Hours, Billy Elliot) from a novel by Bernhard Schlink, this is an adept exercise in staid miserablism and an excellent, morally ambiguous cautionary tale about the dangers of simply remaining silent and going along.