This is one of the top films of 2008. It contains one of the two top performances by an actress of 2008 (Meryl Streep is the other in Doubt). Kate Winslet is phenomenal in this film. Obviously the writing of her character Hanna Schmitz is very fine. But Winslet makes you care for a former SS guard who has shared responsibility for the deaths of quite a few Jews who were murdered during WW II and also conducts an affair with a 15 year old boy. Just think about that for a moment…
She is certainly not the most sympathetic character. Yet Winslet brings such a fully realized character to life that you find your self sympathizing with Hanna’s plight when she ends up being the guard who is railroaded into to taking the brunt of guilt for a crime that she was involved in as an SS guard, but no more than her fellow female guards who walk away with a much lesser sentence. Hanna takes the blame because of embarrassment. I don’t want to give away more plot than this.
When I was a child I thought about what it might have been like to be a German in post WW II Germany while I studied history. What must the guilt have been like that the horror of the Holocaust was allowed to happen when so many turned a blind eye as to what was going on in their country, town and back yard. I thought about it because my ethnic background is German and distant family could possibly have been involved. This is the first movie I’ve seen that dealt with that guilt.
The main character in this story is played by a young German actor named David Kross (a terrific first film performance). Because of his involvement with Hanna as a young man and his subsequently finding out about her involvement in the extermination of the Jews in Hitler’s Germany, his entire life is affected. This story takes place in the late 1950s and early 1960s. This boy was too young to have memories of WW II. He wouldn’t have been born until the end of the war. But, the shame existed for him nonetheless.
Ralph Fiennes does a very good job of playing him as a man. He seems to give an interesting performance worth watching no matter what character he plays in a film. Just this year his roles in In Bruges, The Duchess and The Reader catch your eye as you watch these movies. Again how did he not win an AA for Schindler’s List?
Another movie you’ve got to see. I give this one an A-. Don’t forget In Bruges, and The Visitor are already out on DVD.