The Human Stain

"Good"

The Human Stain Review


Director Robert Benton's quietly compelling adaptation of Philip Roth's novel "The Human Stain" has two conspicuous problems: The very beginning and the very end, both of which are such arrant cinematic affectations that I knew immediately -- without ever having read the book -- the scenes were supplements of the screenplay.

The film opens with a flash-forward revealing its two main characters in a car crash on an icy road. This disclosure has the opposite of its intended effect -- it squelches half the story's escalating tension because you already know what's coming, even if you don't immediately know the ultimate fate of the people in the car.

The faux pas at the end of the picture is that Benton overshoots a perfect finale (the last scene from the novel, I've since learned) for the sake of a heartstring-tugging Hollywood epilogue.

But the balance of the film is everything one should expect from actors the caliber of Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman.

The plot follows the plight of Coleman Silk (Hopkins), an esteemed classics professor at a prestigious New England college whose career is shattered in the name of political correctness over a single word mistaken for a racial slur. "Do these people exist," he gripes about three students who have never once attended his class, "or are they spooks?"

Forced into retirement, the stress of which gives his wife a fatal embolism, Silk eventually finds some semblance of solace in a friendship with a reclusive writer (Gary Sinese, the film's narrator) and an uneasy and unexpected affair with Faunia (Kidman), a troubled, distrustful younger woman with some serious psychological baggage (sexual abuse and worse) that keeps her at arm's length from any kind of joy in life. This is something with which the newly cynical Coleman finds a certain kinship.

Revealing no hint of her personal elegance in her role as a coarse and common beauty hanging on to the bottom rung of society (Faunia is a janitor at the college), Kidman is as much a revelation in this role as she was in her Oscar-winning performance as Virginia Woolf in last year's "The Hours." Using rough hands, dirty fingernails and cigarettes almost as extensions of her prickly, distrustful, soul-sapped personality, she seduces Coleman out of a misplaced feeling of obligation when, after her car breaks down, he helps her home to a dairy farm where she rents a room to hide from a abusive loose-cannon ex-husband (an unnerving Ed Harris).

But when this December-May relationship blossoms -- presenting its own set of problems due to the clash of their very different worlds -- a trust begins to form that helps trigger a flood of pent-up emotions in both lovers.

Through flashbacks to his post-World War II youth (where tall, strong-jawed Wentworth Miller does a fine job of capturing Hopkins' character traits without looking a thing like the star), the film reveals that Coleman has been holding on to a secret that could virtually clear his name in one fell swoop -- a secret that shaped his life since his late teens, a secret that permanently alienated him from his family and abetted his rise in academia, and a secret that destroyed his first true love.

Hopkins gives a characteristically refined performance of sweeping but subtle poignancy as Coleman, beautifully capturing the man's furtively bridge-burning temperament, his re-emerging regrets and his long-dormant memories of that ruined relationship which motivate him to devote himself to Faunia in ways that the writer -- his only remaining friend -- has a hard time understanding.

"To her sex and betrayal are the same thing," Coleman says of his perseverance to be a mainstay in her hitherto volatile life, despite the disparity of their lifestyles and the fact that she's seen in the community as further proof of his virtue's decay. "Granted she's not my first love, and she's not my great love. But she is my last love. Doesn't that count for something?"

Directed by Benton ("Twilight," "Kramer vs. Kramer") with a literary grace that would have allowed the tension to build naturally if it weren't for that spoiler prologue, "The Human Stain" is -- despite its bookending machinations -- a strong, self-possessed film that strikes an emotional nerve (several nerves, in fact) without being overbearing the way so many Oscar-bait movies are this time of year.



The Human Stain

Facts and Figures

Run time: 106 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 29th October 2003

Box Office USA: $5.3M

Budget: $30M

Distributed by: Miramax Films

Production compaines: Miramax Films, Lakeshore Entertainment, Stone Village Pictures, Cinerenta Medienbeteiligungs KG

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 43%
Fresh: 64 Rotten: 86

IMDB: 6.3 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Coleman Silk, as Faunia Farley, as Lester Farley, as Nathan Zuckerman, as Young Coleman Silk, as Steena Paulsson, as Mr. Silk, as Nelson Primus, as Mrs. Silk, Lizan Mitchell as Ernestine, Phyllis Newman as Iris Silk, as Psychologist

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Manchester by the Sea Movie Review

Manchester by the Sea Movie Review

This may not be the cheeriest movie of the season, but it's so skilfully written,...

Live By Night Movie Review

Live By Night Movie Review

Ben Affleck launched his directing career 10 years ago with his film of Dennis Lehane's...

La La Land Movie Review

La La Land Movie Review

After storming awards season with Whiplash two years ago, writer-director Damien Chazelle returns with something...

Assassin's Creed Movie Review

Assassin's Creed Movie Review

Hopes were high that this film might finally crack the curse of movies based on...

Silence Movie Review

Silence Movie Review

Faith is a topic Martin Scorsese can't quite shake, courting controversy with complex films like...

A Monster Calls Movie Review

A Monster Calls Movie Review

A difficult movie to market, this isn't actually the BFG-style fantasy adventure it looks like....

Monster Trucks Movie Review

Monster Trucks Movie Review

Word has it that a 4-year-old came up with the idea for this unapologetically silly...

Advertisement
Collateral Beauty Movie Review

Collateral Beauty Movie Review

Dramas exploring the nature of death and the true meaning of life are always in...

Paterson Movie Review

Paterson Movie Review

Unpredictable filmmaker Jim Jarmusch ricochets from his artful vampire movie Only Lovers Left Alive into...

I, Daniel Blake Movie Review

I, Daniel Blake Movie Review

At 80 years old, British filmmaker Ken Loach won his second Cannes Film Festival with...

Why Him? Movie Review

Why Him? Movie Review

Writer-director John Hamburg continues to recycle the formula that made his first hit Meet the...

Passengers Movie Review

Passengers Movie Review

Anchored by the almost ridiculously engaging Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, this sci-fi movie travels...

Neruda Movie Review

Neruda Movie Review

Clever Chilean director Pablo Larrain (who also directed Natalie Portman's Jackie) takes on the Nobel-winning...

The Eagle Huntress Movie Review

The Eagle Huntress Movie Review

Narrated by Daisy Ridley (The Force Awakens), this documentary is one of the most gripping...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.