Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Behind the scenes; Deleted/extended
scene; Jean Yves Esoffier tribute.
WITH its top-notch cast and award-winning director, The Human
Stain immediately feels like the type of movie that has been made
with the Oscar season in mind, which makes its numerous failures
all the more glaring.
Based on the acclaimed novel by Philip Roth, and starring Anthony
Hopkins and Nicole Kidman, the film suffers from being horrendously
miscast from the outset, as well as an overly-intricate plot that
buckles under the strain of its own burden.
Roths novel tackles issues of racism, hidden identities,
sexual deviance and political scandal (it is set against the Clinton
sex scandal of 1998) in a thoughtful, intelligent manner, yet
Robert Bentons film attempts to shoe-horn everything into
a tight running time (106 minutes) without every really managing
to engage the viewer.
Hopkins stars as classics professor, Coleman Silk, a man with
a terrible secret, whose life begins to unravel around him when
he inadvertently refers to two of his students as spooks,
triggering a racial scandal.
He loses his job, his reputation and his wife, but subsequently
begins an affair with Nicole Kidmans troubled janitor, Faunia,
which threatens to expose his hidden past, and which places his
life in danger from her estranged Vietnam-veteran husband, Lester
Farley (Ed Harris).
The ensuing tale of tragedy is relayed via a reclusive author,
Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise), who has formed a friendship with
Silk, and who resolves to uncover the unknown biography of his
once-great companion and new-found mentor.
While certainly convoluted, Bentons film doesnt help
itself by throwing in plenty of flashbacks to Silks early
years, during which his African-American roots are consistently
exposed and undermine his early ambition. Hence, the film feels
very disjointed and never flows as well as it should.
Whats more ironic, however, is that these early scenes,
involving newcomer, Wentworth Miller, as the young Coleman Silk,
actually work better than those which take place in the present,
when the full extent of the miscasting becomes apparent.
For starters, the deeply sexual relationship between Silk and
Faunia never convinces, especially as Hopkins looks ill at ease
with the material, and Kidman fails to cut it as a white trash
femme fatale, while neither of the characters manage to engage
you quite as emphatically as they should.
Their performances feel very manipulated and cold, almost as
though they are going through the motions for the sake of it,
and serve to lessen the impact of the final revelations.
Harris, too, appears to be on psychopathic auto-pilot, while
Sinise lacks the passion needed to make his search for the truth
overly sympathetic, or worthwhile.
And therein lies the films biggest problem - a sustained
failure to engage the audience, emotionally, which makes it difficult
to become hooked by the rest of its themes.
The Clinton sex scandal is only really briefly alluded to, in
an almost half-hearted way, while the issues of racism, domestic
violence and constructing a life around a lie, while certainly
powerful, lack the impact they ought to have carried.
In the end, Benton - who directed the Oscar-winning weepie, Kramer
vs Kramer - leaves viewers feeling as cold as the snowy landscapes
which litter proceedings, making this more of a stain on the CVs
of all involved, rather than anything they can be proud of. It
is a major disappointment for all concerned.