Though she could have won just for appearing in two Academy Award-contending films in one year, Kate Winslet deserved as much as any other actor to win one for her performance as the hard-bitten Hanna Schmitz. Her middle-aged character in post-war Germany has an affair with a high school kid (David Kross) in the heavily nominated film “The Reader.” Winslet plays the simultaneously fussy and sexually-charged woman just as such a person probably would be, unremarkable to everyone but her rosy-cheeked young lover, Michael (Kross, and as an older man, Ralph Fiennes), who fascinates as well with a feverish blend of immaturity and wisdom. Their summer together is thoroughly believable, containing excitement, mystery and ultimately disappointment when Hanna disappears from Michael's life only to re-emerge during his time at law school as an accused war criminal.
The film opens with an introduction to Greek verse, and the sharing of literature transcends each emotional crest and valley of the sprawling story, which makes a strong case for the film's best picture nomination until it loses its thrust during a head-scratching last act. Reviews haven't been kind, but the film is worth seeing even though its ultimate meaning, like the Greek to Hanna, is incomprehensible. (R) 122 min. HHHII S