Projections - Movie Reviews

The Human Stain

One of this fall's more controversial releases is Robert Benton's The Human Stain adapted from the compelling Philip Roth novel.  The setting is the late 90's in snowy New England.  This somewhat edgy drama is noted for the casting of Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman as the leads and a big plot turn that Miramax films has asked reviewers not to mention.

So many not familiar with the Roth novel may ask those who've read it or might take up reading to find out the life of Coleman Silk played by Hopkins.  Happening at the outset is a car accident on a back road with Silk and girlfriend Faunia, a rather sultry Kidman.  Esteemed director Benton, known for his dramas like Kramer vs Kramer then lays out the events which led to this fateful intersection of two vehicles where the second car doesn't stop.

Nicholas Meyer's script lets us into Massachusetts' Athens College where Silk, a classics professor for 35 years, is charged for making a racist remark against a black student during class.  Offense is taken against the way the work "spook" is used and soon enough false accusations lead to his resignation in front of a betraying faculty board.

His anger becomes more painful after letting his wife know of the circumstances and his protest.  She suffers an aneurysm and suddenly dies.  An early middle-author named Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise) is a man who befriends Silk and through which The Human Stain is narrated.  And Silk takes up with Kidman's defiant cleaning lady, Faunia as passion brings back memories of his younger days when a disturbing decision was made.

Part of the factoring quotient in the plot has to do with what Silk has compromised in terms of his heritage and family.  Hopkins goes for it, as the part is one that some may feel he isn't right for.

Nevertheless, Kidman helps as much as she can, displaying a broad range of emotions, involving the romantic side of the film.  Her side of the story has its clandestine nature with a psychotic ex-husband, well played by Ed Harris, her co-star in The Hours.

In the end, the resolution lacks credulity, in part because Benton and Meyer don't quite have the touch in modulating the action and characters to the desired effect.  The Human Stain is complex and often moody all of which is amplified by Rachel Portman's score.  But, even with a prestigious cast, it doesn't leave the emotional imprint it should, given the characters and their moral dilemmas.

 
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Jim
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The Human Stain
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