After a dark horse Oscar nomination for Best Picture, we got a chance to see this movie at last. Kate Winslet had been gobbling nominations and wins right and left for her work in this and in Revolutionary Road, and I must say that this is the performance of the two to honor. Winslet’s character, Hanna, a brusque but kind, reticent but aggressive German fare-taker, finds sad little Michael (David Kross) on her doorstep. She ministers efficiently to him in his hour of need, and in his gratitude their acquaintance grows into more. In her flat there’s hot and cold running Hanna — her emotions visible but too fleeting to identify on her distance face. She is a puzzle to be worked out, and naked to boot. Michael’s youthful infatuation eventually tips them over into the more dramatic and affecting second half.
I was pleased not to know the key secrets in the beginning, just as Michael did not, so I will not spoil them for you here. One is disappointingly easy to work out, but it’s less important as its own fact than how Michael comes to see Hanna again, years later and how that fact shapes her destiny later. The German attitude towards Germans who participated in Hitler’s military is very interesting and intense. The philosophical rollercoaster that we join Michael on is indelibly beautiful and disturbing. The qualities of shame, pride, fear, obedience, mercy, gratitude, and love are thumbed through like the pages of an animation flip book. I have no doubt that the novel makes this movie seem but a glissando of a complex series of emotional notes, but I can say that I was torn up every which way by the end of it.
Grown-up Michael (Ralph Fiennes), with his sense of kindness and justice partially learned in Hanna’s bed, made me want to read the book more than ever. Floating above all his actions, all the proceedings of Act II, is Winselt, trembling with so much suppressed feeling. She is strong and lovely in 1958, Act I, brave and terrified in Act II (1966), and an opening flower in Act III (1980-ish?), as if living life in reverse. I love me some Meryl Streep but Hanna Schmidt erased any thought of the movie Doubt by being so rich, so layered, so heartbreaking, and the premise so intellectually engaging. I’m not sure why so many people find this film to be just so-so, or some kind of larger statement. Perhaps Act I’s burgeoning romance goes on for too long. I argue that the rest of the film would lack its impact without the delicate house of cards assembled in 1958. I am very glad I saw it, I hope you will be as well. Winslet is astonishing even for those who detract the movie in general.
MPAA Rating R-sexuality, nudity
Release date 1/9/09
Time in minutes 124
Director Stephen Daldry
Studio Weinstein Company