I first saw The Reader in the middle of November and thought it was, well, fine. I certainly liked and respected the film, but I felt that it was something of a flatline, without any sufficiently gut-punching moments (for the viewer, not the characters) to make it truly memorable. I specifically was looking for Ralph Fiennes, playing a man who unknowingly had an affair with a Nazi guard as a teenager, to have a killer “Oscar scene” near the end of the film, which he doesn’t.
This past weekend, I decided to give The Reader a second chance. It’s fascinating to learn which films grow on you with repeat viewings and which don’t. This year, I enjoyed Slumdog Millionaire and Milk more when I watched them again, while my love for Frost/Nixon faded a bit the second time. (And I simply don’t have enough time to sit through Benjamin Button again.) With The Reader, though, the difference was the most dramatic. This time, I found myself quite moved by it, particularly during Kate Winslet’s centerpiece courtroom scene in which the film’s surprising plot twist is revealed. By the end, I was a wreck.
Since then I’ve been asking myself what was different the second time. Did I miss something when I first watched it? Am I simply being swayed by the five Oscar nominations it received? I don’t think so, but I do believe my shifting opinion has to do with the awards strategy for the film. Back in November, the Weinstein Co. was campaigning Winslet for Best Supporting Actress, meaning there were no lead-acting candidates from the film. So I watched it as if it were more of an ensemble piece, which it clearly isn’t. With Winslet now firmly in my mind as a Best Actress contender, her performance really jumped out at me as the true anchor of the film. Though I remain a huge Revolutionary Road fan, I am in awe of what she was able to pull off in The Reader.
So do I suddenly think The Reader has a shot to top Slumdog Millionaire for Best Picture? Not a chance. But I’m more convinced than ever that Winslet will win Best Actress next Sunday. And if the actress was at all disappointed that she didn’t get nominated for her husband’s film (it seemed like it when she declined to do any interviews on nomination day), she’s certainly on board with her current campaign: She’s set to appear at a luncheon honoring the film in New York tomorrow. It’s been a punishing awards season for Winslet, but I’m feeling like it’s going to pay off in the end.