This film is about to become the most hated of all Oscar-Baiting movies, due to its recent nomination ahead of the Dark Knight. This isn't entirely fair, because its a tight human drama and granted it ticks its Oscar checklist one box at a time but it does what it does well. It just doesn't do it greatly.
The plot sees teenage Michael (David Kross) have an affair with close-mouthed Hanna (Kate Winslet), who he falls in love with, only for her to vanish seemingly without a trace. 10 years later, Michael is now a law student witnessing a trial of women accused of allowing a barn full of Jewish prisoners to burn to death. Guess who is one of the accused. To go any further would be to go dangerously close into spoiler territory. This film is definately one of two halves, the first of which is a sexual coming of age tale, the second of which is a dark moral drama involving the holocaust and the transparency of morality. I can't honestly say that they fit together seamlessly, but each works pretty well in its own context. Even if the Flashback structure used here would have felt dated about 10 years ago. But with a film of this variety plot and story is not really what its about. They live or die on their performances, and in this case Kate Winslet salvages whatever qualms one may have about the film's structure, with a nigh on career best turn. Admittedly its a hell of a role, but she certainly earned her paycheque with this performance. Kross, as the young Michael does what he can without being remarkable and Ralph Fiennes as adult Michael almost seems like an afterthought.
The film has its moments of joyously powerful emotional manipulation of course, as any good Oscar Baiter will do, but sadly Oscar has made me dislike this film much more then is fair because of their ridiculous over-rating of it. Sometimes too much acclaim is a bad thing, even though the obvious thought would be that it would be otherwise. See it for a great performance by Winslet that rises above the somewhat second hand material.