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Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Movie to provide Kate Winslet her Oscar

The Reader (2008)

Last night I took in The Reader. It was actually the first book I had read in my book club when it started a couple years ago, and ever since I heard Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes would be starring in it, I have looked forward to its release.

Overall, I was definitely impressed with the adaptation. Most movie adaptations of acclaimed novels have to cut a lot out, but The Reader is a short book, so there actually seemed to be added material. The material that was added, however, flowed easily and made dramatic sense.

Let me put it out there that Kate Winslet is, by far, my favorite modern actress. I think she is terrific in everything she has ever done, and she should have at least a couple of Oscars by now (especially for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). She does not disappoint in this film. She is playing a supremely flawed character, but she manages to turn in a performance that humanizes Hannah without making her lovable or letting her off the hook. It's quite a different role than her usual free-spirited sort, but she is more than up to the challenge. Watching her performance, you can always see the many layers she is drawing upon to create this character. With a lesser actress in the role, the movie would not have been nearly as successful.

Thankfully, she has a good partner in David Kross, the actor playing young Michael (who grows up to be Ralph Fiennes). He is the protagonist of the film, and as an audience we are always in his head and seeing things from his perspective. He is up to the challenge of carrying us along for his emotional journey. I thought the film was strongest at the beginning (showing Michael and Hannah's relationship) and the end (especially two knockout scenes between Ralph Fiennes and an older Kate Winslet and another between Fiennes and Lena Olin as a Holocaust survivor). The courtroom scenes in the middle, while providing crucial information, seemed to drag a bit.

The movie is beautifully shot, has a memorable score, and leaves the viewer with plenty to think about. If it's missing something, it seems to be a certain amount of passion. Stephen Daldry directs everything with competence, but he doesn't take a lot of risks.

The Reader has been getting a lot of flack for taking The Dark Knight's assumed spot in the Best Picture race. While neither film is in my top 5 for the year, I hope the numerous strengths of The Reader are not lost in the bitter battles of Oscar season.

Grade: B+

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