The Reader

Daldry film looks to shrug off pre-release drama

The Weinstein Co.

Release date: Dec. 10

“The Reader” is only Stephen Daldry’s third feature, and potentially his third time up at bat for a director Oscar. Both his previous films — 2000’s “Billy Elliot” and 2002’s “The Hours” — earned the British helmer Oscar nominations, among other nods.

Unscreened as of presstime, “The Reader” certainly has the potential to glow in Oscar’s golden reflection. But it hasn’t been an easy road so far. Two of the film’s producers, Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack, passed away this year. The film then became the subject of a twisty fall battle between producers Harvey Weinstein and Scott Rudin, finally ending up in Weinstein’s hands. Rudin — who took home Oscar’s top honor this past year for producing “No Country for Old Men” and also a prior nominee for “The Hours” — backed away from the film.

Regardless, the pic’s pedigree can’t be ignored. Five-time Oscar nominee Kate Winslet toplines along with two-time Oscar nominee Ralph Fiennes in a tale based on Bernhard Schlink’s international bestseller. “The Reader” was adapted by playwright David Hare (a prior Oscar nominee for scripting “The Hours”), and lensed by two-time Oscar winner Chris Menges. Among other Oscared vets onboard are editor Claire Simpson (“Platoon”) and production designer Brigitte Broch (“Moulin Rouge”).

Set during and just after WWII, a period that frequently resonates with Oscar voters, “The Reader” is billed as “a haunting story about truth and reconciliation, about how one generation comes to terms with the crimes of another.” Winslet plays Hanna Schmitz, who is drawn into a passionate affair with teenager Michael Berg (German thesp David Kross), who reads to her. After Hanna mysteriously disappears, Michael comes across his lover again as a law student while observing a Nazi war crime trial where she’s a defendant. Fiennes plays the older Michael, looking back on the events of the past.

Both Winslet and Fiennes have other horses in the race this year. Winslet co-stars with Leonardo DiCaprio in “Revolutionary Road.” And Fiennes played the chilly Duke of Devonshire in “The Duchess” and had a small, explosive role as a vicious underworld boss in “In Bruges.”

If “The Reader” reads well with Acad voters, it’s possible that thesps, helmer and scribe could see nominations again this season, along with other crafts categories. Daldry’s last effort, Virginia Woolf triptych “The Hours,” scored nine noms and won Nicole Kidman her first trophy.

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