Since Kate Winslet won her best actress Oscar for The Reader, the party line has been that it was some sort of career achievement award, given not so much for her work in this film as for all the other great films she's starred in over the years.
That's nonsense. While the movie itself has some problems, none of them stems from Winslet's performance. As a sullen Berlin streetcar conductor who begins a sexual relationship with a teenager, for reasons that are both more and less than they at first seem, Winslet again demonstrates why she's earned the tag as one of her generation's greatest actresses. Her Hannah Schmitz is a tightly coiled emotional mess, with an emotional compass that barely registers. She's a character far less dynamic than Winslet is used to playing, which makes her accomplishment even more impressive.
That said, The Reader comes across as a film that's considerably less than its parts. Despite fine supporting performances from Ralph Fiennes and David Kross (who turned 18 while the film was in production), the movie comes across as a ham-fisted rumination on the German people's responsibility for the atrocities of World War II, and for how subsequent generations have regarded that responsibility. The movie is too ponderous and self-important. But that's not Winslet's fault.
Also in stores today : T he Spirit (Lionsgate, $29.95, Blu-ray, $39.95) takes Will Eisner's noir-ish crime fighter and turns him into a Frank Miller superhero, punching his way through a world that doesn't deserve him. It all looks great, with Eva Mendes and Scarlett Johansson making for some delicious eye candy. But Gabriel Macht is an inert Spirit, and the whole thing lacks Eisner's unique flair and vision.
Other releases: Doris Day and Rock Hudson romp their way through 1959's Pillow Talk (Universal, $19.95); our 16th president, in his bicentennial year, gets the full History Channel treatment in Abraham Lincoln: His Life and Legacy (New Video Group, $34.95).