‘Reader’ draws praise, but is it too remote for Oscar?

Posted by · 12:30 pm · November 30th, 2008

After a couple of days in post-screening limbo, the reviews for “The Reader” are in, and while there’s much praise for the film, I suspect the response may not be quite what Harvey Weinstein was hoping for.

The general impression appears to be that it’s intelligent, well-crafted and delicately performed, but as Kris anticipated recently, there are concerns that it may prove too distant and cerebral for many audiences … including the Oscar voters. Jeff Wells is one prognosticator striking the film from his list of Best Picture ponies: “Sorry but that’s the verdict I’m hearing. Intelligent, well written, handsomely shot, doesn’t deliver emotionally.”

That “verdict” is echoed almost exactly in Variety’s coolly respectable review:

Stephen Daldry’s film is sensitively realized and dramatically absorbing, but comes across as an essentially cerebral experience without gut impact. Classy package will appeal to upscale specialized auds and the bookish set but pic will have trouble crossing over to the general public Stateside.

As for Kate Winslet, widely deemed the film’s brightest awards prospect, they are impressed by the performance, but find the character impenetrable:

A central problem with “The Reader” as a film is that one can never look inside the character of Hanna. Her life and behavior are invariably assessed from the outside — what she represents to Michael, the way the court and history take stock of her actions — but never by her … Winslet supplies a haunting shell to this internally decimated woman, one who can perhaps momentarily escape from her shame through sex but for whom there is no past she can possibly face and no future to anticipate.

Screen International, however, has fewer reservations, disagreeing with Variety on the audience accessibility issue, and declaring the film a clear-cut awards contender:

Although it struggles under the weight of its source novel’s multiple temporal shifts, “The Reader” is for the most part a superbly fluid, elegant film crafted with distinctly European sensibilities which suit the bitter story at its heart … It takes Daldry to another level as a filmmaker of great nuance, and should be a major draw for intelligent audiences everywhere … Although older awards voters will find the Holocaust-themed film an uncomfortable one to watch, it will inevitably be a leading contender in multiple categories and could finally deliver Winslet her Oscar.

Finally, The Hollywood Reporter continues the run of praise for the film, but wonders whether it has come along at the right time of year:

Certainly “The Reader,” for all its erotic scenes involving Kate Winslet, presents a difficult marketing challenge. The lively, nonlinear structure imposed by screenwriter David Hare and tight, focused direction from Stephen Daldry make this an engaging period drama. But German postwar guilt is not the most winning subject matter for the holiday season.

They also find themselves unable to empathise with Winslet’s character, but declare the actress (together with co-star David Kross) best in show:

To Winslet and Kross belong the gutsy, intense performances of the film. Lena Olin as a unyielding camp survivor and Bruno Ganz as a sagacious law professor put in memorable appearances. Fiennes is solid as the elder Berg, but by this stage of life the “oldness” Hanna once exhibited has caught up with him too, making his a somewhat listless role.

Difficult to know what to make of this all. The reviews are better than I expected they might be, but there still isn’t anything here to persuade me that the film is a Best Picture contender, despite what Screen International believes.

Winslet’s backers should be happy with those notices, but if her character is really that difficult to connect with emotionally, it could be a drawback to her Oscar chances. For me, she still hovers outside the top five for Best Supporting Actress — until a couple of relevant precursors suggest otherwise.

→ 9 Comments Tags: , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

9 responses so far

  • 1 11-30-2008 at 12:42 pm

    Rob said...

    You should try this one for size. From Screen International. The journal I think is more European based.


    “The Hours screenwriter David Hare delivers an intelligent adaptation of the book, again in roughly three parts, and the performances here, in particular by Kate Winslet in the film’s central and most difficult role, are stupendous. Although older awards voters will find the Holocaust-themed film an uncomfortable one to watch, it will inevitably be a leading contender in multiple categories and could finally deliver Winslet her Oscar. ”

    “But the film belongs to Winslet as Hannah. Speaking with a hard, monotone, German accent, the actress brings a blank, haunted quality to this isolated woman, who is on the one hand lonely and hungry for love, on the other a willing, not entirely unrepentant participant in genocide. As the character ages, Winslet makes her both heartbreaking and pathetic as she achieves a level of remorse. “

  • 2 11-30-2008 at 12:43 pm

    Rob said...

    And didn’t she just get a “Best Actress in a Drama” nomination from the Satalites for “The Reader”.


  • 3 11-30-2008 at 1:10 pm

    Jim said...

    Thanks Guy for posting all these reviews together! I’m happy they like Kate’s performance. Well, I still hope she gets nominated for this but even if she doesn’t, that will help her win the best Actress award.

    I really think she will get either an Oscar or a Golden Globe nomination for The Reader. It will be difficult not get any of them.

  • 4 11-30-2008 at 1:15 pm

    Silrone said...

    4 nominations for the Satellites… Rave reviews. THE READER enters in Oscar race, baby!!!


  • 5 11-30-2008 at 1:22 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Rob, read more carefully: I already included the Screen International review.

  • 6 11-30-2008 at 2:22 pm

    Rob said...

    Indeed. It might be nice for her to actually win in New York, rather than place second as she did for Holy Smoke and Eternal Sunshine.

    I’d say she can pretty much expect the BAFTA or a SAG too.

    If she gets in 2 catergories at BAFTA she will win, although Kristin Scott Thomas would be her most likely rival in the leading catergory.

  • 7 11-30-2008 at 2:23 pm

    Rob said...

    Oh very good Guy. So you did. I think I scanned too quickly. Ha.Ha.

  • 8 11-30-2008 at 4:32 pm

    Matt said...

    I can see the Reader pulling a “Little Children” route… two supporting nods, a screenplay nod and maybe one or two techs like costume and makeup… but no BP.

  • 9 12-07-2008 at 2:00 am

    Rob said...

    That’s about my estimation. It doesn’t seem strong enough for Best Picture. Could be a late shower – like Hotel Rwanda – couple of acting awards and a screenplay nod.

    Perhaps the score might get in.