Director: Stephen Daldry

Cast: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes

The Buzz: Nominated in Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Cinematography categories

The Run: Won Golden Globe for Best Supporting (!) Actress

The Reader

Slow And Steady

Everything about The Reader is ambiguous. Even the title betrays us. Does it refer to the person who is reading out or the one who is actually “reading”? We are left searching for meaning among the seemingly divergent threads of the film. Even Roger Deakins’ beautiful images eschew from providing a coherent motif to the film. Early on in the film, a professor remarks that the western literature is characterized by secrets. That people in power are the ones with secrets. Right here, he may just have talked about he Reader itself. A quiet and powerful film that vehemently opposes black and white explanation.

What begins with a Truffaut-like tone shifts gears to become one of the best character studies of recent years. The plot follows the surreptitious affair between a teenager Michael and an ex-Nazi prison guard Hanna. Hanna is illiterate and seems to be indulging Michael only because he reads books to her. She is extremely inarticulate. Inarticulate because she does not know words that conceal her true thoughts. Inarticulate because she does not know words that express these feelings either. She is fascinated by things that verbalize or visualize those. Ebert mentions in his insightful review on the film that the movie is all about decisions. Damn right he is. Each decision one takes is a resolution of the conflict between one’s own conscience and others’, especially if the latter projects as a mass sentimentality. Daldry sticks to the cinematic proverb “show not tell” till death as he deliberately keeps all the vital points of the film low-key fearlessly.

The Reader was a very difficult film for me to come to terms with. They say a great film begins after the last frame. As the end credits rolled, I was furious for the Academy to have selected five unworthy contenders for the biggie this year. But it was a matter of days before the film began revealing itself. Everything began to make sense. And it became clear that Daldry may just be the man of the year at the Oscars.

Director: Sam Mendes

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Michael Shannon

The Buzz: Nominated in Best Supporting Actor, Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction categories

The Run:  Won Golden Globe for Best Actress (Drama) 


Fast-Food Cassavetes

Fast-Food Cassavetes

No established director’s filmography seems to be complete without a familial drama. This year is the turn of Academy Award winning theatre director Sam Mendes. Revolutionary Road follows the happy married life of a couple, played by Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, gradually disintegrating to debris. The lead pair reunite 11 years after Titanic (1997), proving that if the iceberg doesn’t get you, marriage will.

First off, Revolutionary is damn riveting. You are hooked to the screen even if the dispute between the couple seems redundant and outright silly.  The performances are generally convincing but that’s strictly a matter of subjectivity (Imagine, both of them got nominations in the Golden Globe, snubbed by the Academy). But what hurts is Mendes’ heavy-handed execution of the plot. He seems to show us how empty the lives are and how fake their passions are – a theme that’s 50 years old. Mendes knows this and cleverly places his film in that era. But he derives the film rather than letting it evolve. Every scene exists not because they are beautiful by themselves, but because they are the cause to the next. Each one seems calculatingly placed in order to push forth the stale state of affairs. He cuts to the drama forcefully. One more. The Michael Shannon character is a consequence of Mendes’ supreme lack of confidence in his own direction. Where directors like Cassavetes and Antonioni left the audience on its own to grapple some meaning out of it all, Mendes safely verbalizes the lead pair’s opinions about each other through Shannon. And he hides this sham under the remarkable performance of Shannon and the unstable state of the character’s mind. 

I am still skeptic about the costumes in the film. The film seems to take place in the 1950’s. But I can’t believe that men still wore hats and blazers whenever they went out. Of course, this might have been researched before put into execution. But what if it wasn’t? Revolutionary Road still makes up for a decent drama for anyone willing to witness something shallow yet grave, depressing and absorbing. Kate and Leo, that’s why you shouldn’t carry on with acquaintances from journeys!